As Matt Cavanaugh points out in his response to my post, the difficulty in determining civilian casualties in any conflict (including Iraq) is enormous. My point was that Jim Molan had made an assertion that violence was worse under Saddam without a reference point, no feel for what the average monthly body count is a decade after the invasion, and no indication why we should consider the current situation better than what preceded it. To put Jim Molan's comment into some context and to garner an explanation as to how he arrived at his assertion, I provided a total from Iraq Body Count which, while not perfect, is at least transparent. 

Matt's figures cited in response lack objectivity, let alone transparency. I note that Matt cited a source describing Saddam as having caused deaths at a 'conservative estimate' of 16,000 a year. Matt must have chosen the word 'conservative' advisedly as his source for these figures was a 2004 article entitled The Lifesaving War in the ultra-conservative The Weekly Standard, a magazine founded by William Kristol, one of the most ardent neoconservative advocates of invading Iraq. Not exactly an objective or even transparent source. 

The article presupposes that victory has been achieved simply as a result of the invasion and, if you can read this tripe through to the end, you'll realise that the author believes that 'Liberation made it possible...(to save) approximately 60,000 lives a year'. Unfortunately, writing just over a year after the invasion, the author wasn't so prescient in understanding that many didn't agree with the word 'liberation'. The war had many more years to run and tens of thousands more deaths to inflict. 

Jim Molan's reply also highlighted the pitfalls in trying to measure which period had the greatest bloodshed. In order to emphasise how violent Saddam was, Jim sought to include the one million dead from the Iran-Iraq war, but failed to mention the degree to which Saddam's war efforts were supported by the US. If responsibility for the deaths caused by the Iran-Iraq war goes to Saddam then what responsibility should those who supported him in such an endeavour bear?

Regarding my point about relative standards of violence, Matt may want to re-read my post, as I didn't try to argue that there is more regular violence in Brazil, South Africa or Chicago than there is in Iraq. I am, moreover, particularly disappointed that Matt seriously thinks I would accuse Jim Molan of racism. I believe Jim's argument was lazy intellectually as he neither disaggregated the Middle East (meaning he believes that Omanis, for instance, wouldn't think Iraqi violence is appalling because they're from the Middle East) nor did he acknowledge that most other parts of the world (including Europe) are prone to shocking and widespread communal and political violence, given the correct circumstances. Jim should not relativise violence or people's acceptance of it. 

I am still unsure what Jim meant when he said that 'Compared to Australia, the violence is appalling but by Middle East and Iraqi standards, one may arrive at a different judgment.' Given that he said in his most recent post that he generally writes what he means, he must believe that Iraq and the Middle East share a common standard regarding what constitutes appalling violence. He never sought to define what he believed that standard to be, which intrigues me. To my mind, it raises the question: if Jim believes there is a Middle Eastern standard of violence, does it not follow that there must be an African one, a European one etc?

Photo by Flickr user expertinfantry.