With the Iraq War entering its sixth year and the U.S. death toll now surpassing 4,000, it has become fashionable – and rather convenient – to claim that no one prior to the invasion five years ago could have foreseen what a bloody disaster the war would turn out to be.
Typical is a recent article by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter John Burns, published in the New York Times a few days before the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion.
“Back in 2003,” he wrote, “only the most prescient could have guessed that … the toll would include tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, as well as nearly 4,000 American troops.”
Burns goes on to marvel over the fact that there are now “a million or more Iraqis living as refugees in neighboring Arab countries,” suggesting that this too, was utterly unpredictable.
But while it may now be conventional wisdom to claim that the war’s bloody and tragic toll was unforeseen, it is not, in fact, true.
In the months leading up to the invasion, independent journalists and international organizations tried to highlight the potential human costs, while tens of millions of ordinary people marched in cities across the world in a desperate attempt to stop the war before it started.
Central to the pleas for peace was the argument that any attack on Iraq would necessarily involve needless deaths of Iraqi civilians and that the Bush administration’s primary argument for invading – Iraq’s alleged possession of WMD – was unsubstantiated and possibly unfounded.
International organizations and well-respected NGOs also highlighted the likely human costs of a war, including its inevitable civilian casualties and the potential displacement of countless Iraqis.
Before the invasion, for example, the United Nations predicted that the civilian casualties caused by a U.S. invasion would likely be much higher than the Persian Gulf War in 1991 (which killed an estimated 100,000 civilians), since in 2003 the impoverished Iraqi population was so heavily dependent on government handouts to survive.
The UN noted that those government supplies would be severely disrupted by a U.S.-led invasion, inevitably leading to great hardship among the population.
Also, as I noted at Consortiumnews.com on Feb. 5, 2003, UN planners said that the coming war and its aftermath would likely kill or injure more than 500,000 civilians and leave nearly one million as refugees. About three million Iraqis – out of a population of 23 million – would suffer severe hunger, the UN report said.
This confidential report was leaked to the public over a month before the March 19 invasion, but was generally ignored by the American media, much like the unprecedented and historic mass demonstrations taking place at the time.
Also ignored was a report by the International Study Team, a Canadian non-governmental organization, which focused on the likely effects of a war on Iraqi children.
The NGO noted that “because most of the 13 million Iraqi children are dependent on food distributed by the Government of Iraq, the disruption of this system by war would have a devastating impact on children who already have a high rate of malnutrition.”