27 July 2006 Edition

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International: Highest official monthly tally of violent deaths since the fall of Baghdad

100 civilians per day were killed in Iraq

Three years after the Bush administration declared the end of the war, an average of more than 100 civilians per day were killed in Iraq during the month of June, the United Nations reported on Tuesday 18 of July, registering what appears to be the highest official monthly tally of violent deaths since the fall of Baghdad. In its report, the United Nations said that 14,338 civilians had died violently in Iraq in the first six months of the year with "the overwhelming majority of casualties being reported in Baghdad".

United Nations officials said that the number of violent deaths had climbed steadily since at least last summer. During the first six months of this year, the civilian death toll jumped more than 77 percent, from 1,778 in January to 3,149 in June, the organization said. This sharp upward trend reflected the dire security situation in Iraq as sectarian violence has worsened and Iraqi and American government forces have been unable to stop it.

United Nations officials said they had based their figures on tallies provided by two Iraqi agencies: the Ministry of Health, which tracks violent deaths recorded at hospitals around the country; and Baghdad's central morgue, where unidentified bodies are delivered, the vast majority of whom met violent deaths. Each agency issues death warrants for the bodies it receives, government officials say, and there is no overlap between the two populations of victims. The United States government and military have not made public any specific figures on Iraqi civilian casualties or said whether they are keeping count.

Baghdad has been the focus of raging sectarian violence, particularly since the bombing in late February of a major Shiite shrine in Samarra, which set off several days of bloodshed, widened a rift between the Sunni Arab and Shiite communities and stoked fears that the country was sliding toward full-scale civil war.

Kufa and the nearby Shiite holy city of Najaf - because of their predominantly Shiite populations and tight control by Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated security forces - have largely been spared the sort of sectarian violence that has ravaged mixed cities like Baghdad and Baquba.

But the latest attacks have taken place in demographically homogenous areas, suggesting an ominous deterioration in security.

However terrible the situation is for Iraqis, business for the US is good. The American Energy Secretary, Samuel W. Bodman, who met with Iraq's oil and electricity ministers in the high security Green Zone of Baghdad, had a rosy view of progress here since his last visit in 2003. "The situation seems far more stable than when I was here two or three years ago," he said in an interview in the fortified Green Zone. "The security seems better, people are more relaxed. There is optimism, at least among the people I talked to."

Business may be going well for some companies that successfully secured the reconstruction moneys, and for those who have managed to secure the biggest oil reserves in the area. But business is not so good for the U.S. public, as the increasing costs of the war have meant cuts in health and education. Recently a remarkable report came out through a minor US government committee and shows that as well as lying to the people of the US about the pretext for invading Iraq, Bush has been lying about the cost of the war.

In September 2003, Bush's then economic advisor, Lawrence Lindsey, guessed that the war on Iraq would cost between $100 and $200 billion. Such an estimate was not to the liking of the administration and Lindsey was ditched. Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mitch Daniels, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld came out with a budget of under $50 billion. However, the figures in the new report reveal that the cost of the war has been, so far, $319 billion. The report notes that the Defense Department has failed to offer the full figures of war expenditure. So the true sum is likely to be higher. And this does not include the care for injured soldiers.

In an article published by CommonDreams.org, Huck Gutman, a lecturer at the University of Vermont, finds that the enormous fiscal cost of the President's misadventure in Iraq means that there is a lot less federal money to address the crisis in health care, the lack of affordability of college for young people, and the need to find alternatives to fossil fuel. "Between tax breaks for the wealthy and the costs of the war, President Bush is bankrupting the American treasury."

Furthermore, Gutman finds that "there is still an ongoing deception about cost", as war costs are presented in such a way that they take place off-budget. Over 90 percent of the costs of the "war on terror" have been provided for in supplemental appropriations bills or as "emergency" funding. "The President's apologists will no doubt say that all wars start this way, with supplementals. But wars have never before continued to be funded in this off-budget manner."

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