October 18, 2007
Is Iraq More Peaceful Now Than Under Saddam?
The headline I saw online from McClatchy Newspapers was an obvious parody: "As violence falls in Iraq, cemetery workers feel the pinch."
But it turned out not to be a parody, but an earnest attempt by two reporters and a group of correspondents to find a downside to the ebbing of violence in Iraq, which is claiming fewer civilian lives, month by month. What Team McClatchy came up with was a sad story about the plight of funeral workers at Iraq's biggest Shiite cemetery in Najaf, who are making less money as Gen. Petraeus's surge brings the Iraqi death rate down.
To the grave-diggers, might I suggest an alternative career in landscaping?
Numerical estimates vary depending on your source, but since the surge began in April, the trends showing numbers of Iraqi civilians killed each month are all pointing the same direction: down.
At the Najaf cemetery, there were 2,500 fewer bodies buried each month than there were in the spring.
According to the French wire service AFP, which is not known for its support for U.S. interests, in Iraq as a whole, 840 Iraqi civilians were killed last month by militias, bombs, or armies-or 28 people per day. That's a 50-percent drop, down from 1,771 in August.
Numbers from the British anti-war group Iraq Body Count (IBC) showed the same trend. IBC said the September civilian death toll was 1,280, but they agreed that the September number was half the August number, which they pegged at 2,575. This is great news-not that you saw it mentioned on the news with the kind of prominence that would have greeted an increase of violence.
Despite all this, a voice in my own head, no doubt addled by too much television at the gym, adds, "I suppose it's still too bad America invaded in the first place, touching off all the sectarian violence."
After reviewing the number of civilians found in Saddam's mass graves, which were still being discovered in 2005, I'm not so sure. If we're talking about only civilians and political prisoners, the toll for Saddam's 23 years in power was at least 300,000 people murdered; that's 13,043 per year; 1,086 per month; or 36 per day.
At that rate, if AFP's estimate is the correct one, for an Iraqi civilian, it's safer to be in the middle of a hot war under American rule today, than "at peace" under Saddam. And of course, Saddam's 300,000 political murders are a number apart from the 500,000 or so Iraqi soldiers he sent to their deaths in his bizarre invasions of Iran and Kuwait. And the hundreds or thousands of murders around the world that he caused as a financier of terrorism.
I've heard from so many sober voices that launching the Iraq war was a terrible thing to do: from the loony-Left of MoveOn.org, the plain-vanilla Left of television and news magazines, the quaint Left represented by certain Vatican spokesmen, and the triumphant gloom of the far Right. No doubt it feels righteous to protest a war, since wars involve so much unjust killing.
But what about Saddam's war, which was waged every day and in all directions? Were the lives he mercilessly took without significance? Are the lives Saddam would have taken, if not for America's intervention, without value?
Moralists and politicians should remember that there are many kinds of violence. One of them is failing to defend the innocent.