This provides an excellent opportunity to revisit an important question:
How many Iraqis have died since the U.S. invasion?
The size and scope of the program "will provide an extraordinary amount of data," said a former government official. Another former official noted that $15 million is far more than the State Department allocates annually for its polling activities worldwide.
Pincus notes that the larger Pentagon project of which this polling is a part has been controversial in Congress. In particular, Senator Webb has asked for suspension of the new Army contracts to produce print, radio and television news stories as well as entertainment programs in Iraq.
While I support Senator Webb's very reasonable proposal, I would also like to suggest a different approach to the proposed polling project.
In particular, I think Congress should require the Pentagon to ask Iraqis the following questions:
<blockquote>"How many members of your household have died since March, 2003? How many members of your household have died since March, 2003 due to violence?"</blockquote>
Inclusion of these questions would allow the U.S. government to estimate how many Iraqis have been killed since the U.S. invasion.
Not only should Congress require the Pentagon to ask these questions, but Congress should require the Pentagon to use the data so gathered to create estimates of Iraqi deaths since 2003, and of how many of those deaths were due to violence. And Congress should require that those numbers be reported to Congress.
When the "Lancet study" (that is, the Johns Hopkins study) estimated two years ago that 600,000 Iraqis had died, President Bush dismissed the study as "not credible," without offering his own estimate, or explaining why that estimate was "not credible."
Much ink has been spilled since then in the dispute over estimates of Iraqi casualties (relatively little, however, of that ink has been spilled in our corporate media in the United States.)
Now, the Bush Administration has the opportunity to set the record straight. The Pentagon is, apparently, going to be polling Iraqis anyway, so there would be no additional cost. And if the Pentagon is going to be polling Iraqis on a regular basis, then the question could be repeated, so as to arrive at a more accurate estimate.
I double dare the Pentagon to ask Iraqis this question. If the Pentagon is brave, it will agree.