The Saddam Line

In a recent post Billmon takes a swing at an idea that I brought up earlier, namely that when you amortize the violent deaths over the time that Saddam and America separately governed Iraq it is hard to escape the conclusion that Iraqis are a lot worse off right now. Let’s call Saddam’s monthly toll the Saddam Line, which I figured to be in the area of 1,400 untimely deaths per month. In order to break even (that is, be just as bad as Saddam but not worse) the 36 month postwar period would have to have killed off roughly 50,000 Iraqis by now.

In fact the Iraq Body Count estimates a number just shy of 50,000, which hardly helps us since only an idiot would think that even a majority of violent deaths end up in the news media. Iraq is a large country whose media ranges between dysfunctional and nonexistent. Anyhow, Billmon came to more or less the same conclusion that I did:

[A]dd it all up and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to put Saddam’s career total as a mass murderer in the 500,000 to 750,000 range, and perhaps as high as a million. Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot might sneer at such numbers, but they’re pretty hefty for a tinpot Third World dictator who, as we can see in hindsight, lived in constant fear of being overthrown.

Of course, someone could try to run a baseline projection on actual versus expected deaths, like the one Johns Hopkins ran on Shrub’s Iraq. This almost certainly would greatly raise Saddam’s numbers — perhaps as high as the 2 million cited in Saddam’s black book.

But it’s hard — or should be — for Shrub to take much comfort even in that, because while Saddam ruled Iraq for almost 24 years, the Cheney Administration and the U.S. Army have had the place in their tender care for less than four. Two million divided by 24 equals 83,333 deaths a year. But 655,000 divided by four equals 163,750 deaths a year — almost double Saddam’s annual output.

Or, if you prefer to use more “conservative” estimates for both:

* Saddam: 31,250 deaths a year (750,000 divided by 24)
* Cheney Administration: 87,500 deaths a year (350,000 divided by four)

But that makes the comparison look even worse.

So here in a nutshell you have why many on the right not only cannot accept the new mortality figures, but will never do so come hell or high water. Judging by the Johns Hopkins study this Bush war has come very close to being worse than Saddam not only on an ongoing monthly basis but in the absolute lifetime tally of tortured and dead. Whether the real number is higher or lower we have undoubtedly entered the margin of error. But most importantly, this disturbing fact can only worsen for us. Billmon:

We also shouldn’t forget that Hussein has a line drawn under his column in the record books. Shrub and company do not. The civil war they have helped unleash in Iraq could last for a long, long time.

If people stopped dying tomorrow Bush and his enablers would have an ambiguous claim for the bloodiest reign in recent Iraqi history. Regardless of whether we personally killed these people, they died because we consciously chose to destabilize Iraq without planning for the power vaccum and the violent groups that it would inevitably draw in. But people won’t stop dying tomorrow. The bloodshed has gotten immeasurably worse in recent months and precisely no reason exists to think that trend will turn around.

Quite the contrary, my civil war checklist passed another milestone recently when the Iraqi government decided to condone the separation of Iraq into semi-autonomous federal states. One wonders who will get Kirkuk. Baghdad. Plenty of Iraqi territory remains relatively peaceful today (and I mean relatively) because the mixed inhabitants have managed to punt on the question of which ethnic plurality has final claim on the land. When decision time comes it is simply impossible to imagine the losing minority giving up peacefully.






12 replies
  1. 1
    scarshapedstar says:

    Yeah, but how many schools did Saddam paint?

  2. 2
    John Cole says:

    Two thoughts:

    1.) “…which hardly helps us since only an idiot would think that even a majority of violent deaths end up in the news media.”

    Which means that the entire right-wing blogosphere and this congress and administration will be arguing with you on this point.

    2.) “If people stopped dying tomorrow Bush and his enablers would have an ambiguous claim for the bloodiest reign in recent Iraqi history.”

    Since Denny Hastert last week capably demonstrated what it means to the GOP to take responsibility (You say “I am responsible” in public, then move on with your life as if nothing happened), some people are going to think you are claiming Bush and company killed all these people. Well, they may not actually think that, but they are going to assert it.

  3. 3
    Punchy says:

    I think by “ethnic cleansing”, Bush was certain that meant the Shites, Sunnis, and Kurds would each be taking one bath a day.

  4. 4
    RSA says:

    (You say “I am responsible” in public, then move on with your life as if nothing happened)

    Alternatively, you say, “The North Koreans insurgents and dead-enders in Iraq are responsible for any violence.”

  5. 5
    Punchy says:

    the Iraqi government passed a law condoning the separation of Iraq

    Yeah, but word on the street is that PM Al-Jaafari issued a signing statement declaring the unitary executive branch of mullahs get Tikrit to themselves and all the oil profits therein.

  6. 6
    Sojourner says:

    But it’s so much better to die because of the freedom-loving Bush than the dictator Hussein.

    And if you disagree with that, Bush will disappear you, just like Hussein used to do. But it’s better to be disappeared by the freedom-loving Bush than the dictator Hussein.

  7. 7
    Tim F. says:

    Yeah, but word on the street is that PM Al-Jaafari issued a signing statement declaring the unitary executive branch of mullahs get Tikrit to themselves and all the oil profits therein.

    All the oil in Tikrit, plus four fifty, will buy you a half-soy latte at Starbucks.

  8. 8
    Pb says:

    I’m sure I just used this link the other day, but….

    Dead Iraqi Would Have Loved Democracy

  9. 9
    Punchy says:

    All the oil in Tikrit, plus four fifty, will buy you a half-soy latte at Starbucks.

    Thanks, Rand McNally.

  10. 10
    Tony J says:

    All the oil in Tikrit, plus four fifty, will buy you a half-soy latte at Starbucks

    Yeah, but there’s SOMETHING buried out there, maybe north, or west, or south of the town.

    Can’t remember who told me that. Mmmnn.

  11. 11
    Tsulagi says:

    One wonders who will get Kirkuk.

    My guess would be the Kurds. While the Iraqi Constitution was being written, Talabani pushed for an article in it calling for a referendum in 2007 to be held in Kirkuk to determine if it becomes part of the Kurdish provinces. Talabani and the Kurds haven’t stopped with just putting that article in the constitution.

    Turkey and Iran have insisted there be a ten year wait on that referendum. They’ve warned they may take action if that doesn’t happen. The Kurds have insisted it to take place no later than December next year. The prize, Kirkuk, which has about 40% of the country’s oil fields sitting on top of about 25% of the country’s reserves.

    Conventional wisdom about that region says if the Kurds get too much turf, oil, and independence, Turkey and/or Iran will take them out. Conventional wisdom in that region from the late 40’s going into the 60’s also said that Arab countries would push Israel into the sea.

    Talabani and the other Kurdish leaders know their best shot is to take Kirkuk now. Especially with Bush the Stupid on stay the course and the Shia occupied down south with killing the Sunni taking land there.

    I don’t think Talabani realizes how retarded Bush is. If he would just send him some smiley cards like Harriet telling him how smart he is and fawn on him in public, he’d not only get his two US air bases he proposed but also Bushy saying a free, independent, democratically controlled KurdIraqistan was the plan all along. He’d have looked into Talabani’s soul.

  12. 12
    Shochu John says:

    With no disrespect intended to Saddam’s remarkable killing ability, I don’t think projecting a lifetime total average into the future is the best way to do this. All of his really big ticket massacres were during war or shortly thereafter, be that war with Iran or the U.S. From after the GHWB-encouraged Shi’a uprising until the invasion, things were pretty quiet in Axis of Evil Iraq (assisted in no small part by the no-fly zones). If we’re going to project anything into the future, it should be a projection of deaths in post-1991 containment Iraq. Why assume deaths Saddam was no longer in a position to effect?

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