The Duck of Minerva

Where’d you hide the body?

8 November 2007

Bloggers on the right have been trumpeting the apparent decline in Iraqi civilian deaths as a clear sign that the surge is working. Apparently, we do body counts now that we like the numbers.

However, I’ve been arguing since September that civilian deaths may well be down because Iraqis feel insecure and have simply fled their homes. Such self-segregation is a classic response to ethnic war and there’s new evidence suggesting this viewpoint is correct. From the AP’s Lauren Frayer on November 5:

Deadly rivalries have forced Shiite and Sunni Muslims to flee once diverse neighborhoods across Iraq’s capital, leaving the city with clear boundaries between sects. More than 60 percent of those forced to flee were in Baghdad, the report said… In some places like Shiite-dominated Hurriyah in northwest Baghdad, fighting has subsided because there are literally no more Sunnis left to kill.

Representative David Obey of Wisconsin: Insurgents “are running out of people to kill.” Even General Petraeus acknowledges that this is part of the explanation for the reduction in the death rate.

The Iraqi Red Crescent reports that nearly 2.3 million people fled their homes but remained in Iraq, up from less than 500,000 at the beginning of the year. These “internally displaced persons” now outnumber refugees who have crossed state borders for Jordan or Syria. The AP again:

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, some 2 million Iraqis have fled their country. Of these, 1.2 million are in Syria, 750,000 in Jordan, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran, 40,000 in Lebanon, 10,000 in Turkey and 200,000 in various Persian Gulf countries.

Altogether, adding the IDPs and the refugees means that nearly 4.5 million Iraqis are no longer living in their former homes.

Make that 5 million counting the war dead — or nearly 20% of the July 2007 estimated population.

More bodies: the U.S. military has already suffered more dead soldiers in 2007 than in any other year of the war.

Post title inspired by James McMurtry.