Logic Times

The Civilian Casualty Fable

Commentary by Aslan, 11/26/05, 10:46am. Comments (16)


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"Tanks, flowers and civilian casualties"



"The gruesome number of U.S. war dead pales in comparison to the loss of life suffered by Iraqis," the anti-war A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition, which organized a protest last month that drew more than 100,000 demonstrators in Washington, said in a statement marking the 2,000th U.S. death. (here)


One of the foundation blocks of anti-war protest against the United States in Iraq is civilian casualties, which viscerally represents a country in ruin, a tragic human face on Bush’s warmongering. This perspective, of course, ignores the civilian carnage during the reign of Saddam Hussein (see Fuzzy Moral Math) and instead focuses on the perceived chaos in Iraq today. And this newfound concern for Iraqi civilian life is not only a staple of the anti-war Left, it is a convenient club wielded by mainstream Democrats in Washington, who argue that chaos in Iraq represents failed policy.


With so much emphasis on Iraqi civilian death, one would expect the casualty statistics to be very well understood.  An uncritical audience, for example, might be inclined to accept at face value the Lancet (a British medical journal) analysis estimating 100,000 civilian casualties, a "study" that has been widely discredited by credible groups on both sides of the debate.  Yet the public is still inundated with high casualty numbers, and anti-war protesters continue to carry signs tallying up the massive numbers of civilian dead.



There is indeed a mind-blowing story about collateral damage that needs to be told, but that story is one in which we honor the extraordinary achievement of the United States military: two years of combat since the fall of Baghdad, much of it urban warfare, with less than 1,000 civilians killed as a result of U.S. action:



What is the source for these numbers?  The most comprehensive study of civilian casualties is available from a group opposed to the Coalition intervention in Iraq called Iraq Body Count.  This summer, the Iraq Body Count project published an analysis of casualties in the Iraq War that must be admired for its meticulous documentation.  


This study reports 24,865 civilian deaths in the first two years of the Iraq War, an apparent ringing endorsement of the "Iraq in chaos" position. But a curious statistical anomaly jumps right off page one: over 81% of the civilian casualties are men.  Even stranger, over 90% of civilian casualties are adults in a country with a disproportionate percentage of the population under 18 (44.5%).  This contradicts a basic tenet of the civilian casualty argument, namely that we are describing collateral damage during a time of war. Collateral damage does not differentiate between male and female, between child and adult.   A defective smart bomb falling in a marketplace, stray bullets ripping through bedroom walls, city warfare in Fallujah – all these activities should produce casualties that reflect the ratio of men to women or adults to children that prevail in Iraq as a whole.


This question is particularly relevant when one side in the conflict does not wear uniforms, is predominantly adult and of one gender, and engages in a practice of concealing its combatants within the civilian population.  The statistics are further distorted if the Iraqi security forces – essentially the free Iraqi military on the side of the U.S. coalition – are classified as civilians, as they are in this study.


Consider the reported vs. expected gender and age distribution in the Iraq Body Count analysis:


Note: Statistical analysis of confirmed demographic data is projected over the total reported civilians killed.  National gender and age data comes from here, here, here and here.


If the death of innocent civilians is at issue, then the gender/age data can be used to estimate the percentage of actual civilians killed. Below, the data for female and underage casualties provides the basis for determining a true, pure civilian "body count" figure of 7,976.  



Before any additional analysis, it must be noted that this figure is breathtaking in its limited scope; a nation of 26 million people enduring two years of warfare, much of it urban, has a civilian survival rate of 99.97%.  Consider that in one day, September 11, 2001, the United States incurred almost 40% of this number.  Also consider that, in the United States of America, you have the exact same risk of dying if you drive a car (survival rate = [1 - two-year car fatality totals/population] or [1 - ((42,815+42,643)/291,000,000)] = 99.97%).


There is further risk of distortion in the Iraq Body Count report related to the timing of casualties. Casualties that arise from the initial invasion of Iraq, for example when the 3rd Army swept into Baghdad in April of 2003, are an expected and tragic consequence of major military action, which had near universal American support at the time.  The subsequent focus on civilian casualty counts over the ensuing months is an exercise of a different nature, one designed to portray a ruthless or disorganized army of occupation that is inflicting devastating collateral damage on the civilian population in its hunt for terrorists and non-uniformed combatants. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the fatality distribution over time reveals:  



The only way to describe the actions of the U.S. Military in its role of "occupier" is a compassionate and careful army that avoids collateral damage despite its dangerous mandate to hunt for terrorists and non-uniformed combatants hidden within the civilian population.  It is nothing short of miraculous that our Armed Forces have been able to eliminate as many terrorists and enemy combatants as they have with so little actual collateral damage. Many seasoned military men, in fact, bemoan the increased danger such modern warfare represents.  A cogent argument can be made that mixing warfare and compassion is not wise, but under no circumstances can American warriors be faulted for lacking compassion.


The low level of actual casualties, developed and explained in the Appendix below, is stunning.  Over the course of the Iraq invasion and "occupation," only 14.8% of reported fatalities represent actual civilian fatalities caused by U.S. action.  Even more remarkable, since the fall of Baghdad the U.S. has been directly responsible for only 3.8% of fatalities reported, as many deaths over almost two years as Saddam averaged in 10 days.


Note: The calculations in this chart are described in the Appendix below.


For those who claim the United States is indirectly responsible for the several hundred deaths a month caused by insurgents and criminals, they would do well to note two facts: 1) just over 32% of the fatalities in the chronological table represent civilians, and 2) that this figure is a 93% decline from the monthly average piled up by Saddam Hussein over 24 years (see Fuzzy Moral Math).



The effective civilian casualties are calculated as follows:

  • a Variable - The two top BLUE lines are the results of the gender/age normalization of the casualty data.  Using documented gender/age demographic data, the reported female deaths and the reported underage deaths were used to project the actual adult male non-combatants embedded in the total casualty number.
  • b Variable - The two dark RED lines are carried over the report's disclosure of parties responsible for fatalities.
  • x Variable - The first GREEN calculation (a * b) represents the percentage of total reported fatalities that are civilian and for which the U.S. is directly responsible.
  • c Variable - The two PURPLE lines reflect the timing distribution of fatalities looking at two periods: the initial invasion, identified as March 20 through April 30, 2003, and the "occupation," identified as May 2003 through the end of the report time frame in March of 2005.
  • y Variable – The second GREEN calculation (x * c) reveals the percentage of total reported fatalities that are civilian and for which the U.S. is directly responsible during the so-called "occupation" period in the report (May 2003 – March 2005).
  • d Variable – The two BLACK lines detail the breakdown in fatality responsibility between U.S. and non-U.S. forces during the "occupation."
  • z Variable - The third GREEN calculation (d * a) reveals a percentage of total reported fatalities that are civilian and for which the U.S. is directly responsible for any time in the future. The previous "y" calculation is distorted by inclusion of invasion period numbers. The "z" calculation simply projects post-invasion fatalities tendencies into the future.


Copyright ©  2005 Dan Hallagan. All Rights Reserved.




1: JGS

November 27, 2005 12:00am EST

Great piece of work.


Just don't give the left the distinction of God with the capital letter.


{Aslan: Believe me, I do NOT capitalize "Left" as a mark of divine respect!  I do so because using "left" often makes for a confusing sentence.  Now that I think about it…}


2: Peter Bland

November 27, 2005 2:42am EST

Bravo sir!  Your site is like an oasis in the desert: clearly written, hard-hitting, intelligent essays that drive home a proudly conservative message.  If only more people like you could be hired on as news producers.   It would certainly do more to elevate the national discourse than all the hand wringing we see before, during and after every single national election cycle.  "Why are we so mean to each other?  Listen as talking heads debate with guttersniping and heated back-and-forth totally devoid of facts on today's talking head show."  Talk about the tail wagging the dog.


I am very tired of listening to the left spout endlessly on in their tame media outlets about varying levels of civilian deaths.  All of these casualty figures are deliberately inflated and serve to send the message that US troops throw ordinance about willy-nilly in the off chance that they might bag a terrorist or two.  This goes against my own empirical observations from when I was attached to the 1st Marine Division in Babylon.  Headed by the able Lieutenant General Mattis, I might add.  I would gladly storm the gates of hell if he was leading the charge.  How can the media allow their fellow reporters to spew this vile agitprop day in and day out when they have many reporters embedded with combat units? Can't they see from first hand observation the inaccuracies of this nonsense?  Every reporter who ever embedded with a combat unit in Iraq or Afghanistan should jump up and denounce this trash.  Where was the negative feedback in that calculated hit piece from the Lancet Journal claiming "1000,000 Civilian Casualties"?  The silence from the fourth estate was deafening.


I could go on and on.  The "Willie Pete is a Chemical Weapon" story recently.  The continued recycling of negative stories, complete with pictures and video, whenever possible.  The deliberate lionizing of terrorist monsters, like the "lookback" pieces for Yasser Arafat.  Pieces that consciously chose to ignore the "darker side" of the man's life.  The painting of US troops as ignorant, mindless child-soldiers under the spell of a great neoconservative, illuminati cabal.  "Documentaries" distributed on college campuses that harp on the combat losses but sidestep the motivations of the people who volunteered.  Even worse, "documentaries" that videotape crying families without their permission during military funerals.   Professors on the same campuses who are smugly contemptuous of servicemembers' sacrifices during this war, declaring their pacifism to be superior to "military thuggery".  Elevating people like Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore at the expense of the people the profess to love.  And the only outlet that can be found to refute this is in websites like yours and people such as Michael Yon.


Can you pinpoint when the fourth estate changed into a fifth column?  Was it when Tom Brokaw declared Vietnam "unwinnable"?  When did it become fashionable in the media to think of their audience as mindless sheep just waiting for their daily dose of reality?  You can see this mindset that runs rampant, the mindset that somehow a degree in journalism in Columbia makes a person capable of understanding the world better than someone who lives in it?  At their best, a journalist is a mere observer of happenings.  At their worst, they want to mold events to their ideologies.  What other explanations can be found for the CBS memos, or the media's propping up of Ms. Sheehan and the widely discredited Lancet survey?  This attitude is a dangerous form of hubris that sneers at anyone who does not practice journalism.  If they are so superior, why does it take the junkyard dogs in the "alternative media" to debunk their shabby lies?


My contempt for the profession of journalism is evident.  I have no respect for these people any longer.  While I do not expect them to worship the ground I walk on, a little more consideration for the things I stake my "life, soul and sacred honor" on is in order.  I do not wear a swastika, and I do not enjoy slaughtering people.  Unless they are terrorists, which stretches the definition of a "human being" to the breaking point.


Peter Bland USMC Active 1999-2004, Army active 2005-present.  Rants (not as thoughtful as yours, more of the partisan bombthrowing variety.  But I never claimed to be a "moderate" in anything.  Hoo-Ah!)


{Aslan: First, my family and I thank you for your service to this great country.  At no time am I more gratified that when I hear positive feedback from our Armed Forces, for it is for them that I do much of my work.  I am humbled by the sacrifice of the men and women of the military, and enraged by the intellectually and morally lazy Left who think that War, like an episode of Survivor, is to be voted on and debated over the water cooler.  I took much heat for my War and Dissent essay, but I stand by it 100%.


Everything you say is spot on – in particular, I wonder why the embeds don’t speak louder.  I guess the culture of the media will not tolerate that viewpoint, a viewpoint you know they hold inside after seeing our forces in action.  God Bless and Hoo-Ah!}


3: Leslie Babington

November 27, 2005 11:12pm EST

Thank you so much for the time and effort put into this work.  This is the first time I have ever actually posted a comment on any web site.  I just want you to know that your work has not gone unnoticed.  The people on little green footballs have a link to your site and are commenting on your work.  People are very grateful that you know how to put statistics together that are based on FACTS.  You may want to go to LGF to see what people have to say about your work, and even comment yourself if you haven't already.


{Aslan: Leslie, I did notice that LGF had posted my article when my normally humble counter went berserk.  I am flattered by your comments and their link, as well as the link of others.  The goal of all us is the same, though: to honor our troops and defeat the Left.}


4: Paul Burich

November 27, 2005 11:40pm EST

 I follow the logic of your excellent post, but maybe it’s been too many years since Stat 1A: I’m struggling a bit with the table “Revised Civilians Killed During Iraq War.”  What was weighting used in the calc to go from the Actual vs. Expected percentages to arrive at the 7,976 figure?  The men vs. women discrepancy suggests a figure of 9,202 civilians deaths, while the adult vs. children discrepancy suggests 5,389.  A simple average of those is 7,295.  I know it’s probably obvious but I’ve been fiddling with the numbers for a while to no avail.  Thanks in advance.


{Aslan:  Your observation is keen.  I struggled with how to explain the difference between these underreported groups.  I concluded that extra measures are probably taken to secure children as urban fighting intensifies.  Therefore, I weighted the revised casualty figure in favor of the female number by basing it upon the actual figures reported, which were 2:1 in favor of that group.



I am open to suggestions on tweaking this, but I thought it was a conservative approach,}


5: David P.

November 27, 2005 11:48pm EST

Excellent work, sir.


Prepare to be flamed medium-brown for doing a good job.


At the final analysis, the "Americans murdering Iraqi civilians" BS has nothing to do with logic and everything to do with agenda.


{Aslan: Thank you, David.  It is, indeed, all about the agenda.  As you indicate and I mention in my Note one the main page, the Left will not rejoice that the oft-reported civilian casualty numbers are lower than anyone expected; they will fight, tooth and nail, to hang onto as high a casualty number as they can – it serves them too well to let it go.}


6: John Riddell

November 28, 2005 8:11am EST

Thanks for this analysis.  I had independently arrived at a similar conclusion through a different methodology – again based on the IBC numbers as the base data.  Put simply this was that the supposed civilian casualties for which the US was responsible amounted on IBC numbers to a little over 9,000 as outlined.  6600 of these on IBC’s own count were incurred in the initial invasion period; derived from IBC hospital body counts (morgue records) which claimed 7250 civilians killed up to the fall of Baghdad. This is in massive conflict with the claims of Saddam Hussein’s own Government propaganda machine, which had absolutely no interest in underestimating the number killed and which indicated at the time no more than 1250 civilians dead (5 times less than IBC) up to the same date (there was of course no material fighting after that date – 9th April 2003). Even this total is itself known from local studies (e.g. by the British Army in Basra) to be heavily exaggerated (in Basra Saddam Hussein claimed 300 deaths v actual British Army count of 90 deaths recognised post invasion).  These data can be readily reconciled by the extensive reporting by Western journalists that Iraqi hospitals were filled with “young men of military age” (qv reports from Hilla following supposed civilian deaths there on 5th/6th April) and that women and children were notable only by their near complete absence.  This is essentially the contention of your article.


Coupled with this is the fact that the of the remaining 2600 Iraqi civilians claimed to have been killed by US forces on the IBC count, over 1800 (ca 70% of the 2600) were ”killed” in Fallujah, either in the two US attacks on the city (April and November 2004) or in US airstrikes in the intervening period.  Fallujah civilian casualty totals for IBC and all other sources are known to have been based on serious misrepresentations by local pro terrorist propagandists, including local medical staff.  Data from Fallujah was regarded as so unreliable even by the now notorious “Lancet” study that it was excluded in its entirety from their analysis of casualty totals as inherently unreliable and biased.  IBC’s stance has been very different and is based on the concept that if two media sources provide a report, it is “true”.  This means that even data which is inherently extremely unreliable, such as the supposed civilian deaths caused by the second US assault in November 2004 (almost 800 in the IBC numbers, or one third of their total Iraqi civilian deaths caused by the occupation) can be “justified” by the fact it has been reported in the media somewhere.  In fact their report derives from a single anti war source present in the city of Fallujah several weeks after the fighting and hence reporting nothing but hearsay evidence long after the event from local sources who are acknowledged by even those strongly opposed to the war in Iraq (qv the Lancet study) to be irredeemably biased against the US.


Taking this data together takes you to a total level of Iraqi civilian casualties caused by the US in the 1000-1500 range – which allowing for exaggeration in other civilian casualty reports (e.g. in other parts of Anbar province where civilian casualties have been acknowledged even by anti US commentators to have been routinely invented to discredit US forces) leads back to roughly the same 1000 figure the article provides.  I was not aware of the Iraqi demographic data you use as the core of your analysis, but would note the cross check of extremely low excess child death rates and zero excess female adult death rates versus a control group in Jordan with the UN study of overall Iraq war death rates carried out in 2004.


Its about time this data got a wider hearing.


{Aslan:  Wow.  I am regularly impressed at the depth of understanding evidenced by those who submit comments.  You demonstrate, quite frankly, a deeper understanding of the actual casualties on the ground that I do.  I applaud your intellectual honesty.  It is also interesting that we have arrived at a similar number based upon different methodologies – Logic Times from the demographic end and you from the casualty analysis end.}


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