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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 55


Senator FAULKNER (1:01 PM) —Today I wish to place on record some facts about the civilian casualties of the Iraq war. I cannot place on record any certain statement of how many civilian casualties there have been. No-one knows. I do not mean that the census of the dead is incomplete, inaccurate or fragmentary; I mean it has not been carried out at all. None of the coalition of the willing keep, or admit to keeping, a count of Iraqi deaths.

This is in striking contrast to the anxiety that there be a scrupulous accounting of deaths attributable to Saddam Hussein. It is not in question that in the 1980s and early 1990s Saddam Hussein carried out horrific purges of his real and imagined enemies. More than 50,000 Kurds were shot, bombed or gassed in the late 1980s. After the first Gulf War, when sections of the Shiite and Kurdish populations rose up in rebellion, Saddam Hussein ordered the deaths of at least 100,000 and possibly as many as 200,000 men, women and children. The toll of these massacres a decade or more later is told and retold by the members of the coalition of the willing. Howard government ministers join their American and British counterparts in using these numbers to legitimise in retrospect an invasion carried out under false pretences.

But here is a number you will not hear from this government: 16,389. That is the number of verifiable civilian deaths reported by at least two independent news sources and recorded in the Iraq Body Count project, a volunteer, not-for-profit effort to record civilian casualties. That is the number today. Those 16,389 include Bahaar Ali Kadem, two years old, killed on 20 March 2003 by a missile in Helaa Al-Kefell. They include Ali Shaker Abed Al-Hassan, aged four, killed two days later also by a missile in Al-Bassra. These are two among the thousands of children killed. Those 16,389 include Zahara Khalid, aged 60, killed by a mortar in Baghdad on 19 April 2004, and 59-year-old Muhammad Kahdum al-Jurani, killed on 24 October 2003 when his family car was struck head on by a US armoured personnel carrier on the highway west of Baghdad. The site is at www.iraqbodycount.net. If Senator Hill has any interest at all in the number of Iraqi civilian casualties he might get one of his staff to check it out.

Those are verifiable civilian deaths. The number does not include people whose fate is never recorded by Western media because they live in an area too remote or too dangerous for journalists, because their bodies are buried in the rubble of a bombed building or because deaths due to the breakdown of law and order and human services are not a news story. When it comes to counting civilian deaths caused by the invasion, the US and Australia are part of the coalition of the unwilling.

But, while the occupying forces are unwilling to count the civilian dead, others have tried. Volunteers, doctors, public health researchers and journalists have in some cases risked their own lives to count lives lost. In 2004, the Associated Press surveyed a number of morgues in different regions of Iraq. They found the breakdown of law and order in occupied Iraq had a daily deadly price. The AP survey contains some more numbers you will not hear from Mr Howard or Senator Hill. Karbala has seen an increase from one homicide per month in 2002 to 55 per month in 2004. There were no homicides in Tikrit in 2002 but in 2004 there were an average of 17 per month. In Kirkuk, murders rose from three per month in 2002 to 34 per month in 2004. In Baghdad, the rate rose from three per 100,000 people in 2002 to 76 per 100,000 in 2004.

You will not hear the Howard government talk of the New England Journal of Medicine study that surveyed soldiers returning from Iraq. Assured of anonymity, 14 per cent of army soldiers and 28 per cent of marines in the study said that they believed they had been responsible for the death of one or more civilians. Of course, this might include overcounting if several soldiers believed they had been responsible for the death of the same civilian, but it also might very well include undercounting if one soldier believed they had been responsible for several deaths. If these results were typical, that would translate into 41,000 American troops by the end of 2003 believing that they had killed one or more civilians. This does not count civilian deaths caused by navy or air force personnel, such as those killed by bombing, and it does not count all those killed in the 14 months since the end of 2003.

In 2004 volunteers and public health workers risked their lives to gather data for the study now usually referred to as the Lancet study and published as ‘Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey’. This survey uncovered some more numbers you will not hear from this government. The survey results suggest that, even excluding Fallujah, 98,000 more Iraqis died as a result of the invasion of Iraq than would have died had the invasion not taken place. The major causes of death before the invasion were heart attacks and strokes. After the invasion violence was the main cause of death. The study found that violent deaths were widespread and mainly attributed to coalition forces. Most individuals reported killed by coalition forces were women and children, and the risk of death from violence was 58 times higher after the invasion than before it.

These are staggering figures, and they are figures that ought not be excluded from the debate. If Mr Howard and Senator Hill had their way, these figures would be excluded. They would never have been collected. We owe a debt of gratitude to the many volunteers, doctors, journalists and researchers around the world working to record the Iraqi dead. They are undertaking what is more properly the responsibility of the invading and occupying powers—a responsibility these governments have shirked. You might expect President Bush, Mr Blair or Mr Howard to be ashamed of their failure to offer their citizens a complete accounting of the acts committed in their names. Instead, they ridicule the efforts of others as partial and incomplete. It is true that, as long as the occupying forces leave collecting information about civilian deaths to volunteers and journalists, these surveys can only be indicative. But they are indicative that the years since the invasion have seen a horrendous rise in violent deaths and a horrendous toll of civilian dead.

We cannot know the precise number of dead. We can be certain that it is high, and we can be certain that the reason we do not know how high it is is that our government, the American government and the British government have been very careful to avoid finding out. We in the coalition of the willing name and count every one of our dead—soldiers, journalists, aid workers and civilian victims—but we neither name nor number those we kill, and that difference says more about this war on terror than any grandiose rhetoric about democracy and freedom. That difference explains why our government is so confident we can afford the invasion of Iraq—because the cost is calculated in the currency of Iraqi lives. That is a price the coalition of the willing is too willing to pay. Is the removal of Saddam Hussein worth 1,000 lives? Is it worth 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 or 100,000 lives? Who could solve such a ghastly algorithm? It is the duty of the Australian government, the US government and the British government to try. It is their responsibility to take account of the dead—of their names, their ages, their families and the ways and reasons they died. It is their duty to take account of numbers like 98,000 or 41,000 or 55 murders a month or 16,389 deaths reported in the Western press alone. The point is that we should know the price.

I do not expect the armed forces of any country to be able to invade and occupy another without killing civilians, damaging hospitals and water treatment plants or disrupting food shipments. That is an unrealistic expectation. Wars are bloody and horrific. A lot of people die, and they die hard. Most of them have no connection with the abstract causes being fought for or interest in the politics that brewed the battle. Every one of those deaths leaves a lasting wound in the lives of those who loved them and, knowing that, we should be very careful about when and why we go to war. It is inexcusable to pretend we can wage a war without cost, as the Howard government is trying to do, and it is inexcusable to take our nation to war based on a lie, as the Howard government did. It is inexcusable to take our nation to war based on a lie. The Howard government did not have the strength to say no to the United States or the integrity to tell Australians why we were going to war. They ought to have the courage to count the dead.