In July, the United States military issued its largest release of raw data ever on deaths during the Iraq war. The Pentagon's tally of the number of Iraqis killed in that country between January 2004 and August 2008 amounts to almost 77,000 people -- both civilians and security forces -- who died in the carnage.
As the Associated Press reported, the information went unnoticed for months after being "quietly posted on the Web site of the United States Central Command without explanation." It was only recently discovered by the AP "during a routine check...for civilian and military casualty numbers," which the news agency had first requested in 2005 through the Freedom of Information Act. As AP noted...
"The military has repeatedly resisted sharing its numbers, which it uses to determine security trends." (One exception: U.S. military officials in Baghdad released their July 2010 Iraqi casualty tally in order to refute the Iraqi government's much higher monthly figures, a decision made just weeks before U.S. forces withdrew all but 50,000 troops from Iraq "in an attempt to wind down the war and tout the nation's improved security.")
According to the AP, "a spokesman at Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., could not answer basic questions about the information." Iraqi Health Ministry officials were equally reticent and refused to discuss the American figures, which fall thousands of deaths short of those the Iraqis have compiled using actual death certificates.
The American data claimed 76,939 Iraqi security service members and civilians killed and 121,649 wounded between January 2004 and August 2008. (The count shows that 3,952 American and other international troops were killed over the same period.) The Iraqi Human Rights Ministry reported last October that 85,694 people were killed from the beginning of 2004 to Oct. 31, 2008, and 147,195 wounded.
Certainly estimating casualties in Iraq is an inexact process, and various figures have long been disputed because of the political manipulations aimed swaying public opinion. Needless to say, the mysteriously-derived US military figures are the lowest -- one tally by a private, British-based group that has tracked civilian casualties since the war began estimates that between 98,252 and 107,235 Iraqi civilians were killed between March 2003 to Sept. 19, 2010.
Curious as ever about the meaning of events at the nexus of media and politics, let me ask a few questions:
1. Why was the U.S. military's most extensive death tally ever of the Iraq war released without comment or explanation and buried on a Web site for months?
2. Why can no one in the US military answer "basic questions" about the tally months after it was made, such as how it was compiled, why it was released, and whether the new numbers included suspected insurgents?
3. Why has the U.S. military repeatedly resisted requests to share its comprehensive figures on Iraqi civilian casualties?
4. Why was the US death figure well below that of the Iraqi government?5. Finally, whatever else you may think about the so-called "lamestream media," would we ever have even known about the Pentagon's largest release of raw data ever on deaths during the Iraq war without the Associated Press requesting casualty numbers through the Freedom of Information Act -- and then "routinely" checking for them?