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US evades blame for Iraqi deaths


A SENIOR White House official was asked in a briefing this week if President Bush will ever directly address the Iraqi people about the deaths of Iraqi civilians in the US occupation. Instead of addressing Bush's responsibility, the official delivered a spiraling rendition of denial.


"Let's remember who's killing Iraqi citizens," the official said. "It's not the coalition forces. Yes, there are occasional collateral damage deaths in all wars. But it wasn't coalition forces that blew up the UN headquarters. It wasn't coalition forces that tried to force out the Italians and the Japanese and the Koreans.

"It wasn't coalition forces that blew up Iraqi police stations. These are Iraqis killing Iraqis, and they're the same Iraqis who have been killing Iraqis for 25 years under Saddam Hussein. . . . There will be some civilian deaths. It will be nothing like what Saddam Hussein did."

That was all true. It also had nothing to do with the question. Let's remember something else. The Associated Press reported back in June that at least 3,240 Iraqi civilians were killed in the first month of the American invasion. The AP reported that the "great majority of civilian deaths appear to have been caused by US or British attacks." The AP said its tally was "fragmentary" with the real figure probably "significantly" higher.

In October, the Project on Defense Alternatives estimated the number of civilian deaths during the invasion to range between 3,200 and 4,300. Last month, Medact, the British wing of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985, published a report that estimated between 5,708 and 7,356 civilians died during the invasion and an additional 2,049 to 2,209 have died in the occupation.

For all the administration makes about the terrible attacks by Iraqi guerrillas against the occupation, there have been many examples of completely uncalled for killings of civilians, both in Afghanistan and Iraq. Twice this month, six and nine children apiece were killed in bungled US raids in Afghanistan. In Iraq there have been constant instances of innocent people being shot dead by trigger-happy US soldiers, including the most recent incident in Samarra. The Pentagon bragged about killing 54 Iraqi guerrillas. But local hospital officials counted eight people killed and 54 wounded, mostly, if not all, civilians.

We continue to make a great deal about the deaths of 3,000 innocents in this country on Sept. 11, 2001. But our avenging war on terrorism has now turned into a terrorist attack of its own, killing perhaps three times more innocent civilians. USA Today reported this week that cluster bombs dropped during the invasion killed untold numbers of Iraqi civilians. Unexploded cluster bombs are continuing to kill Iraqi civilians that stumble upon them, including children.

On March 23, at the beginning of the war, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Richard Myers, responded to early reports that scores of civilians were killed by cluster bombs by saying: "The one thing you can be sure of from the Iraqi regime is that they're masters at lying and distorting the truth. . . . we only target militarily significant targets. In the first couple of days, we used essentially 100 percent precision-guided munitions." On April 25, Myers said the United States and Britain dropped 1,500 cluster bombs on Iraq during the invasion. "There's been only one recorded case of collateral damage from cluster munitions so far," Myers said.

Of course there was only one recorded case -- the United States has never counted civilian deaths. Worse, USA Today found that the United States used 10,782 cluster weapons, not just 1,500.

The attempts by the White House to deny the blood on its own hands continued this week with the announcement by the Iraqi Health Ministry that it will no longer count civilian casualties. The head of the ministry's statistics department, Dr. Nagham Moshen, told the Associated Press that the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority has pressured Health Minister Dr. Khodeir Abbas to stop. "We have stopped the collection of this information because our minister didn't agree with it. The CPA doesn't want this to be done," Moshen said.

Abbas, through his secretary, denied the charge. But Abbas had previously said it would be "almost impossible" to do a serious study. Moshen said the ministry's director of planning, Dr. Nazar Shabandar, told her, "You should move far away from this subject." Moshen said that there are enough hospital reports available to produce a credible study. "I could do it if the CPA and our minister agree that I can," Moshen said.

With a shutdown of Iraqi civilians counting Iraqi civilians, the denial would be complete. The senior White House official said, "Let's remember who's killing Iraqi citizens." The evidence is appallingly clear that the White House is really saying "Let's forget."

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

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