“The real issue is not whether the Lancet figures were right, or whether we were right. The real issue is why are the British and American governments not doing this themselves?”, questions John Sloboda, one of the founders of the Iraq Body Count (IBC). “Why are they leaving it to small underfunded studies, volunteers and academics. It’s not the job of volunteers [laughs resignedly], it’s the job of Government, and we feel there must be some kind of change to international law, to make it a requirement on warring parties that they report on the civilian casualties that the conflict causes, to an international body such as the United Nations Security Council. Indeed, many people are surprised and horrified to find that there is no requirement under international law for warring parties to estimate the people that they’ve killed. All there is is a very vague statement that they must do all in their power to protect civilian life, and of course, like a mantra, the US and UK governments constantly repeat that they do do all in their power, but in fact the test of whether they have done all in their power remains in the numbers killed, and that is something that they refuse to engage with.”
In a detailed dossier, analysing two years worth of information collected by the organisation, there are plenty of gruesome figures with which the US and UK Governments, and their allies such as Italy, morally need to engage with.
“We felt that two years was a sufficient sample, which allowed month by month trends, year on year comparisons, to publish a cumulative report on everything we knew at this point in time,” explains Sloboda of the timing of the report. It is the detail, and comparisons that make the report startling reading, because Sloboda is the first to admit that the figures are not definitive: “We’ve never claimed that our figures are the complete picture. They are, however, we believe, a representative picture, and the important thing is that these are absolutely certain figures. These are deaths we know have happened. We have very high grade information about the place, the time, often the identity of the victime, the weapons used, and who pulled the trigger, and it’s on the basis of that information, statistically analysed, over nearly 25,000 deaths that we’re able to produce this quite unique information about breakdowns, trends, proportions of males, women, children killed, of people killed by different weaponry which holds true regardless of whether this is a complete breakdown or not. All these people who keep harping on that this is not a complete count are missing the point. Of course, we want a complete count too, but the only way to get a complete count is to do a door to door census of every house in Iraq.”
It’s important to discuss the Iraq Body Count’s methodology. It is by no means uncontroversial. In their regularly updated figures, which are displayed on up to an estimated 70,000 websites (including Three Monkeys Online), the figures which record the amount of civilians killed in the conflict include those killed by insurgents/terrorists and common criminals. While organisations like Fox news have suggested some hidden bias, the IBC are clear and open about their criteria for including civilan deaths caused by non-US forces in their count, which is described as providing an insight into the human consequences of the US led invasion. “The issue is this, that none of these deaths would have occured were it not for the invasion, therefore in a sense all these deaths become the responsibility of those who took the decision to invade. Of course others have a responsibility too, but the point is that the US and UK can’t evade responsibility for the increased criminality which is the result of the invasion leading to a break down in law and order. They cannot evade responsibility for the deaths caused by an insurgency which would not have started but for their invasion.”
Surely, though, to include civilians killed by suicide bombs, along with those killed directly by US led forces is to confuse the issue? “Not at all, – responds Sloboda, uncompromisingly, – it actually strengthens it, because it shows the entire picture. I don’t think that a grieving mother is that concerned as to whether the bullet that killed her son were an insurgent’s bullet or that of an American soldier. It’s important to get a complete picture of the deaths”.