How Many Iraqis Did U.S. ‘Liberate’ from Life on Earth?

By Robert Naiman

Is there a man or woman in America today who is willing to stand at noon in the public square and claim that demands to bomb, invade, and occupy other people’s countries have anything to do with human liberation?

If such people can be found, let them answer a few simple questions about the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

How many Iraqis did we “liberate” from the companionship of their loved ones?

How many Iraqis did we “liberate” from dwelling in the houses and towns and the country of their birth?

How many Iraqis did we “liberate” from life on Earth?

If any American who claims to believe that indefinite continuation of the war in Afghanistan—or a U.S./Israeli military attack on Iran—is justified by humanitarian concerns cannot give a fact-based and intellectually coherent answer to the question of how many Iraqis have lost their lives as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, do not that person’s claims for “humanitarian” war, bombing, and occupation deserve zero credence?

To state that we cannot know how many have died is outrageously false. It is vacuously true that we cannot know exactly how many have died. But in the diverse fields of human inquiry and endeavor, there are many large numbers that are important which we cannot know exactly. If understanding the magnitude of a number is important, we do not throw up our hands and say, “we can never know.” Imagine a reference book that said, “we don’t know how many humans are alive on Earth today, because no one has counted them all.”

If we want to understand the magnitude of a large number that we cannot count, we estimate it.

And there have now been several attempts to estimate the death toll. In November 2008, Tim Lambert published the following table comparing several estimates, extrapolating the numbers to October 2008:


ILCS: Violent Deaths: 160,000;

Lancet 1: Violent Deaths: 350,000; Excess Deaths: 510,000;

IFHS: Violent Deaths: 310,000; Excess Deaths: 740,000;

Lancet 2: Violent Deaths: 1,200,000; Excess Deaths: 1,300,000;

ORB: Violent Deaths: 1,200,000.

If Lambert were to revisit the issue today, he would produce a table that would look something like this:

ILCS: Violent Deaths: 180,000;

Lancet 1: Violent Deaths: 400,000; Excess Deaths: 580,000;

IFHS: Violent Deaths: 350,000; Excess Deaths: 840,000;

Lancet 2: Violent Deaths: 1,370,000; Excess Deaths: 1,480,000;

ORB: Violent Deaths: 1,370,000.

These numbers are different from one another. Based on these different numbers, can we say anything meaningful about how many Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation beginning in March 2003?

Absolutely we can. We can make the following statement with very high confidence: “Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S. invasion.”

So, if you happen to run into any American who claims to support the open-ended war and occupation of Afghanistan, or a U.S./Israeli attack on Iran, or any other demand to bomb, invade, or occupy someone else’s country based on “humanitarian” motivations, ask them to say this sentence: “Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation of their country.” If they can’t say this sentence, you can safely ignore anything else they have to say.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy, August 7, 2010