Creative Destruction

April 9, 2007

Chemical Weapons are not WMD

Filed under: Iraq,War — Gled @ 7:12 am

The Register:

Improvised protective gear might well get you through a VX attack unharmed, Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage antics in The Rock notwithstanding. Staying indoors would work even better. Once the attack was over, in many cases you’d be able to escape the area with no more than a pair of wellingtons. I’m not saying that a chemical attack would be a completely trivial matter, but it would almost always be preferable to being hit by the same weight of high explosives.

So, if your aim is to kill and injure as many people as possible, you’d be a fool to use chemicals. And yet chemicals are rated as WMDs, while ordinary explosives aren’t. So too are biologicals, even more amazingly. Biological “weapons”, in the modern sense, have yet to be even demonstrated.

I’ve long been of the view that chemical agents are more weapons of mass propaganda than real threat. The Tokyo Subway Attack, for example, involved five separate releases of gas, under ideal conditions for a gas attack, and killed just twelve people. Tragic for those affected, but far less deadly than a bomb or even an accidental fire.

February 17, 2007

The Essential Conservatism of Feminist Discourse: The Whitewashing of Male Victimisation

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Human Rights,Iraq,War — Gled @ 3:57 am

Over on Alas, Kate L. makes an Odious Comparison . (My italics):

I don’t really know about other feminists, but I for one will be the first one to tell you that sexism – both personal and institutional – hurts men as well as women. Now, that being said, I’m afraid that I do agree with amp that the degree of harm is different and that in general most women are probably harmed more than most men, but there is substantial harms to both due to rigid gender role expectations.

How can you draw any conclusion about who is harmed more if you don’t fairly evaluate the harms to both?

The extended discussion between me and Amp, which lead to his revised definition of feminism, began with this post, and this comment by him to Robert’s reply. Amp describes in considerable detail the cataract of disaster that has poured onto the heads of Iraqi women since the invasion. I queried Amp’s statement from his comment that “there’s strong evidence that for girls and women in particular (but not exclusively), things have gotten much worse since we invaded”, (my italics), asking him: “please provide some evidence that it’s not overwhelmingly men in particular who are being targetted for violence?”

Amp’s reply was quite intemperate. He later retracted some of the snarkiness, but stood by his his main point, which was that it wasn’t his burden to prove his claims, but mine to disprove them:

Daran, provide me with some evidence that non-combatant men have been killed more than non-combatant women…

In any case, I don’t doubt for a second that men’s lives in most of Iraq have been made much worse by the US invasion, and that there is an endless supply of violence – perhaps even a majority of violence, by some measures – directed at men, especially if one doesn’t see any moral distinction between shooting an armed combatant to death and shooting an unarmed civilian to death.

In any case, it wouldn’t alter my basic opinion at all. Even if men were the majority of victims in Iraq, I’d still think that there are clearly some forms of violence, abuse and loss of liberty that have been directed more at women then at men, and I’d still be writing about those problems.

Well I took on that burden. It took me several months to find some actual figures, but here they are: 5.4% of civilian fatalities of the on-going violence are women. I estimate about 2% are children, almost certainly mostly teenage boys. The figures for the wounded are similar: 6.4% are women and 2.3% are children.

I don’t think Amp would stand now by what he said then, except for the last quoted paragraph. The question is, how did he ever come to believe that women in Iraq suffered more violent victimisation than men? The answer, of course, is the complete whitewashing of the extent of male victimisation in both mainstream and feminist media, coupled with the feminist gender-norm – the Odious Comparison – that makes such declarations de rigueur in feminist circles without any analysis of the harms suffered by men. Before I found those UN reports containing actual figures, I had to ferret around in reports and news articles for any clues that might have survived the whitewashing. This story for example, discusses these killings at length without any direct reference to the sex of the victims. It’s like reading a description of the Nazi Holocaust which avoids mentioning the word ‘Jew’. But it does contain a clue about two thirds of the way through:

Even the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) humanitarian news agency reported on April 26 that “More than 90 women become widows each day due to continuing violence countrywide, according to government officials and non-governmental organizations devoted to women’s issues.”

Another extremely telling point in the IRIN report is that “Although few reliable statistics are available on the total number of widows in Iraq, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs says that there are at least 300,000 in Baghdad alone, with another eight million throughout the country.” The report said that at least 15 police officers’ wives are widowed every day, and that local NGOs in Iraq said the situation had become much worse since the 2003 US-led invasion of the country, which has brought horrific violence on a level not seen before

Woah there! Eight million widows!? (The figure would include widows from the Hussein era, and so is not necessarily inconsistent with extimates of post invasion deaths in the tens or hundreds of thousands. I am nevertheless sceptical about this figure.) 90 widows per day? Notice that these indirect victims of the violence are gendered. It is only through the centring of the female victims, that the sex of the direct victims becomes visible, and then only by inference. When male victims are discussed directly, they’re desexed, and thus rendered invisible as men. See this post for another example of the desexing of male victims.

Compare with this femininst treatment: “Iraqi Women’s Bodies Are Battlefields for War Vendettas” it says in the headline. Contrast the emotive description of the woman’s murder with the perfuctory language of her brother’s. “They pierced her body with bullets.” vs. “He was also shot and killed.” In case you’d forgotten the headline, the same formulation is used about midway though the article: “women’s bodies [are] the battlefields on which vendettas and threats are played out.”

This is a conservative treatment. It adheres to the mainstream gender-norms exemplfied in the first article, in that the overwhelming levels of male victimisation are rendered invisible, in effect, denied. It is only through being subordinated to a woman’s death, that a male victim is visible at all. A progressive treatment would challenge these gender-norms.

Media whitewashing of harms to men isn’t restricted to Iraq, and it isn’t restricted to war. It applies across the board of feminist discourse which “looks at female oppression through a microscope, and male oppression through a telescope. Backwards. Pointing at the ground. With the lens covers still on. And both eyes closed.

So again, how can you tell who’s harmed the most, if all your sources of information whitewash the harms to men?

(Crossposted with Feminist Critics.)

February 9, 2007

Civilian Casualties – Media Depiction vs. the Real Numbers

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Human Rights,Iraq,War — Gled @ 6:11 pm

My good friend and co-blogger on Feminist Critics, HughRistik, has made an excellent post which deserves wider readership:

…according to an Op-Ed in the February 4th issue of the New York Times entitled 31 Days in Iraq, by Adriana Lins de Albuquerque with graphic design by Alicia Cheng. This article is mainly a large picture showing the death tolls in various areas of Iraq. The picture contains icons of people who represent American forces, other coalition forces, Iraqi forces, police officers, and civilians. All of the icons are male figures, except for … the civilian icon, [which] is a figure of a woman holding a child. Apparently, men don’t count as civilians.

Indeed a glance at the full graphic gives the impression that innocent women and children are being slaughtered in huge numbers in Iraq, while male casualties are confined to soldiers and a small number of policemen. But is this a fair picture?


The UN produces a bimonthly report on the Human Rights Situation in Iraq. The May/June report last year was expanded, and for the first time gave civilian casualty figures, including figures for women and children. Fatalities reported are the sum of the Ministry of Health figures (which cover deaths in/bodies brought to hospitals around the country, excluding Kurdistan) and bodies brought to the Medico-Legal Institute (MLI) in Baghdad, each of which contributes about half of the total. For reasons that aren’t clear, the figures for women and children killed were omitted from the November/December report, hence I will consider here only the figures for the six months between May and October.

The total civilian casualties for the period are reported as 19,471. (Each report also gives revised figures for the previous two months. I have not taken these revisions, which are in any case small, into account because the figures for women and children were not given a comparable revision.) This figure includes 852 (4.4%) women, and 204 (1.0%) children. However, The MLI did not report separate figures for women in May or June, and does not appear to have reported separate figures for children at all. If the MLI’s figures for May and June are excluded, the total falls to 16501, and the proportion of women increases to 5.2%. Unfortunately the MLI’s figures are not reported separately in all four reports, so it is impossible to repeat this adjustment for children. Suffice it to say that if we could, the corrected proportion would probably be roughly double, or about 2%.

A child is anyone under the age of 18. Although I have not found specific information on this subject, I would conjecture that the majority of children killed are not babes in arms, as depicted in the graphic, but teenage boys.

Police and Combatants

Police are legally non-combatants, even though the media sometimes refers to them as “troops”, and lumps them in with army casualties. In December, the Ministry of the Interior reported that 12,000 of them had been killed since 2003.

I have no information on the numbers, but Google searches on the phrases “female Iraqi soldier”, “female Iraqi terrorist”, and “female Iraqi police”, indicates that they do exist. According to this report (PDF) one in seven suicide bombers worldwide is female. In some places, Turkey and Chechnya, 40% or more are female. This tells us little about Iraq; I cite it solely for the proposition that there could be more female combatants than people might expect.


Just as the Haditha atrocity, and the attack on the Education Ministry the mainstream media whitewashes the overwhelming burden of violent victimisation of men in Iraq. A wholly false picture of ‘innocent’ female victimisation is presented. Men, if they are visible at all as men, are depicted in cannon-fodder roles.

(Crossposted between Feminist Critics and Creative Destruction.)

January 12, 2007

Tweaking Amanda

Filed under: Blogosphere,Current Events,Iraq — Robert @ 3:51 am

Amanda is in full end-of-democracy/imperial president/fascism on the march mode about Bush’s decision to start hitting Iranians who are supporting the insurgency in Iraq. Although her rhetoric is intemperate and her grasp of the issues on the table is, shall we say, less than comprehensive, I find myself smiling with warm recognition.

You see, the last time we were fighting wars in the Middle East, I was Amanda. Well, I didn’t have the whole vaginal apparatus thing going on, but I was her age. I was hanging in the same types of hip and liberal social circles. And I was a blame-America-first lefty. During the first Gulf War, I traded bitter denunciations of the fascist Bush machine with my other lefty friends. We talked about how democracy was dead, and the imperial evil was everywhere. We talked about Canada, and Sweden, the way Jews in the 1920s talked about the promise of Israel. We prayed for impeachment, and were sure that the independent counsel was going to find something – anything – on the warmongers and oil thieves who were corrupting the White House.

In fact, at the time, I was in a band. Not just any band – a progressive indie anti-war band. I sang, well, and fronted, badly. Here are the lyrics that I can remember from our best anti-war song. It was addressed to President Bush (Bush the First, as we certainly would have called him if we could see the future):

Driving down to war on a desert highway
People in your way cannot defy you
something something something

(Chorus, starts whispered, ends shouted:
No blood for oil, no blood for oil,
No blood for oil, No Blood For Oil!)

No, really. I swear to God, that’s what we sang. Well, what I sang. The guys behind me mainly just tried to remember how to play their instruments, except for our lead guitar player who was actually really good.

We also had a song about worms who came out after it rained.

Anyway, I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy about this. If history repeats itself, then in about ten to fifteen years Amanda’s going to get married, return to the church of her forefathers, start saying things like “the church of my forefathers” without a trace of irony, pop out some kids, and vote Republican. I can’t wait.

(Of course, by then I’ll probably be a hippie again. C’est la vie.)

November 19, 2006

Feminism and Media Representation of Gender-Selective Atrocities

Filed under: Current Events,Feminist Issues,Iraq — Gled @ 6:42 pm

Look at this headline on

Men in Iraqi police grab kidnap scores in raid

Notice how the perpetrators are gendered, but the victims are not. In fact there’s no mention of the victims’ sex anywhere on the first page. It’s not until you get to the second that you find out what happened:

The gunmen speedily weeded out the men from the women. The women were taken to a room and locked up, witnesses said. The men were pushed into the trucks and driven away. The kidnapped included employees and visitors to the agency, janitors, and PhDs, even a deputy general director of the agency. Some were blindfolded and tossed into the backs of pickup trucks, said witnesses.

There’s some small comfort to be drawn from the fact that – unusually for this kind of atrocity – many of the men were released alive. Some of them were tortured. Many others are still missing, probably among the dozens of bodies floating down the Tigris, with electric-drill holes in their skulls. What’s not unusual for this kind of atrocity is its gender-selectiveness. Almost all of the bodies being washed up in Iraq are male.

But you wouldn’t know that from the media. A day later, and the victims had been completely desexed.

These reports exemplify incidentalisation and displacement which, together with exclusion are the three strategies commonly used in the media to marginalise and conceal the gender-selective victimisation of men.

Feminists make the opposite complaint. According to them it’s violence against women, which is marginalised and concealed in the Media. For example, in respect of the killings of women in Beit Hanoun, Brownfemipower says:

…take a close look at how the violence against these women is justified or even erased

As far as erasure is concerned, in three of the four articles she cites, the victims are identified by gender in the title or first paragraph. The fourth article was about the day’s killings across the occupied territories as a whole, rather than just those at the women’s demonstration. Nevertheless, the women are there, the only victims to be identified by gender.

In none of these articles, nor in any other I found while researching my recent posts on the men and women of Beit Hanoun did I find any examples of the three strategies being used to marginalise or conceal the victimisation of the women. The only people erased were the males who, according to OCHA, were the majority of those shot dead at the women’s demonstration.

Echidne of the Snakes made a similar complaint with respect to the Amish School Shooting.

And only a few days earlier another murderer selected smaller teenaged girls for his violence in another school. Yet this is something the radio news last night didn’t mention when discussing “school violence”. Indeed, the Air America news avoided a single mention of the victims’ gender.

That last sentence in particular caught my eye. What Echidne has just described in the vocabulary of the three strategies is displacement, and I have yet to see an example of it applied to female victims. Echidne’s remark motivated to me several weeks ago to examine the first hundred returns from Google News on the atrocity. Apart from some very early “news just in” bulletins when the victims’ gender wasn’t known, every single one of the reports identified them as female. Nor did I find any examples of incidentalisation (nor exclusion, but the nature of the crime made that strategy impossible). Echidne’s observation, while notable, seems to have been an isolated case.

And you need to read far down into the newspaper stories before you come across a one-sentence-aside about the hatred for girls these horrible acts clearly demonstrate.

Why this silence, this looking-aside? Why make loud comments about possible motives but not look at the obvious one: that these men hated girls? Is it because on some level the society accepts such a hatred, because if we start focusing on it we have to ask some mighty unpleasant questions?

I could ask the same questions of her. Why the silence about the gender-selective slaughter of males in Iraq, which she’s certainly aware of? Why haven’t any of the major feminist blogs as far as I can see done a post about the this kidnapping atrocity? If men had been locked in a room while scores or hundreds of women were kidnapped and tortured, the femisphere would have erupted.

The answer, of course is that gender-selective atrocities perpetrated against men don’t fit the feminist narrative. Girls being killed because they’re girls is evidence, in feminist eyes, of widespread societal misogyny. Women being spared because they’re women is because… err… Let’s talk about something else.

More about the mass kidnapping can be found here.

Edited for clarity and typos.

November 15, 2006

The Times Deems Raping And Murdering A 14-Year-Old “Fallout” from “Frustration”

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Iraq — Ampersand @ 4:28 pm

The top three paragraphs from a story in today’s NY Times:

One of four Army infantrymen charged with raping a 14-year-old girl in Iraq last March and then killing her and her family pleaded guilty today to all charges in a military court at Fort Campbell, Ky.

The plea came on a day when a marine is scheduled to be sentenced at Camp Pendleton, Calif., for his part in the kidnapping and killing of an Iraqi man in a town to the west of Baghdad.

The legal actions are part of the fallout of the fighting in Iraq, where insurgent fighters blend in with the civilian population, frustrating soldiers who are subject to roadside bombing and other attacks.

Holy fucking shit!

So when four infantrymen decide to rape a 14-year-old girl and kill her and her whole family, that’s “fallout” from the frustration soldiers feel because “insurgent fighters blend?”

Yes, I’m sure the soldiers thought that the 14-year-old they raped and murdered – not to mention her 7-year-old sister, who they also murdered – were insurgents blending with civilians. In no way was this a problem of a culture of entitlement, racism and misogyny, combined with giving green soldiers absolute authority over civilians that some of them think of as subhuman.

Heck no! It’s the fault of those damn blending insurgent Iraqis!

(The soldier, by the way, plead guilty in order to take the death penalty off the table. The Times says he’ll probably get sentenced to life, but could be out in 20 years.)

* * *

It’s besides the point of this post, but I feel obliged to point out that the other case the Times mentioned involves soldiers who planned to kidnap and murder an alleged insurgent, but grabbed and killed the wrong man. That’s a genuine example of a death resulting from “insurgents blending with civilians,” I guess; but it’s mainly an example of the inevitable result of believing that war justifies punishing alleged “insurgents” without trial or defense. George Bush and conservatives have been fighting hard to erode the right of trial and defense, and their thinking may have influenced the murderers in this case.

November 4, 2006

Killing for Votes

Filed under: Election 2006,Iraq — Gled @ 12:24 pm

Independent Online:

US officials are reported by some Iraqi officials to have urged privately that the verdict [in Saddam Hussein’s trial] be announced tomorrow in order to improve the standing of President George Bush’s administration in the midterm elections two days later.

Is there nothing this administration won’t do to improve its prospects at the polls?

Update: Lest it be not clear, I am opposed to the death penalty in every case. It is, nevertheless gratifying to see someone who support it, (at least in Hussein’s case) objecting to this.

October 27, 2006

Substantive Criticisms of the Lancet Report: Part 2

Filed under: Iraq,Science,Statistical Method — Robert @ 10:06 pm

Only a week later than promised (hey, I’m not getting paid), my review of the problems I see in the Lancet article on mortality in the Iraq war.

The article is much briefer than the study, which I examined here. So this review will also, theoretically, be briefer (cheers from the gallery). In fact, I only found three issues. However, one of them is potentially damaging to the study’s methodological choices (although I lack the mathematical skills to make a determination of that point), another casts direct doubt on the reliability of the authors’ reporting, and the third makes it clear that the study’s sampling method was not, in fact, random. These are major issues, in other words.

To repeat my disclaimer from last time:
I am not a trained statistician; any numerical analysis which crawls its way into this post should be viewed with a skeptical eye and read broadly and generally. I am skeptical towards this article’s conclusions on grounds of its consistency with the other things that I know, but this post is not about that inconsistency, and is instead a list of what valid critiques I can come up with against the study and the article. I have skimmed the IBC press release slamming the study, and have glimpsed other criticisms, but have not done any extensive reading in the “opposition research”.

Criticisms of the article which also apply to the first document I reviewed will not be repeated unless new information is noted.

1. The study authors selected a target survey size of 12,000 people in 50 clusters through the country. The sample size is adequate. The small number of clusters raises a statistical concern. With each single cluster contributing 2% of the total study data, any unusual cluster will have a disproportionately large effect on the total outcome of the study. The authors make the (legitimate) point that movement in Iraq is difficult and dangerous, and word-of-mouth about the benign purpose of the interviewers propagating through the households of each cluster reduced this risk, an effect which would be greatly attenuated by a larger number of clusters. That is true, but immaterial to the degree of confidence we can have in the study result.

The mathematical statistics needed to figure out how many clusters you ought to use in a study are complex. An article in the International Journal of Epidemiology provides a nomogram (that there is fancy language for a “chart”) that tells you how many clusters you should use for a given prevalence rate (how often you expect to find what you’re trying to find), design effect (how much variation your methodology will create relative to an ordinary random sample), and cluster size (number of respondents per cluster). I do not know the design effect value, but we do know the prevalence rate (about 2.5%) and the cluster size (about 240). For middling values of design effect, the nomogram suggests between 125 and 1500 clusters be used.

It will take a better statistician than your humble correspondent to nail this one down, but it does seem plausible that the number of clusters selected is inadequately small.

2. On page 2, the study authors detail their selection methodology. Each cluster’s origin point was selected from a province and then a town weighted by population (fair enough). The cluster’s starting household, however, was picked in this fashion: “The third stage consisted of random selection of a main street within the administrative unit from a list of all main streets. A residential street was then randomly selected from a list of residential streets crossing the main street. On the residential street, houses were numbered and a start household was randomly selected.”

This is hugely problematic. If you do not live on a residential street which adjoins a main street in your town, then your household is excluded from the statistical universe the study is measuring. The study did not sample Iraq; it sampled the subsection of Iraq that happens to adjoin a major road in town. This is a problem for a study attempting to measure anything, but in the case of a study measuring wartime fatalities, it is a critical flaw. Main streets are densely populated areas. Densely populated areas are the locales to which insurgents in an urban conflict flock. There’s no point in carbombing Farmer Ahmed’s cow; you go to the market. Which is on a main street.

The study authors could have at least partially corrected for this non-random element of their sample by assessing the proportion of the Iraqi population that could have been sampled by this method, and using that total population figure in their overall calculations. They did not do this, and in fact make no mention of the non-random element of their selection.

This is a serious objection to the study’s validity; the most serious I have found.
3. Also on page 2, the study authors write “The survey purpose was explained to the head of household or spouse, and oral consent was obtained. Participants were assured that no unique identifiers would be gathered.”

This is problematic.  Not intrinsically, but because it directly contradicts claims made by the study authors concerning their validation work on the study, specifically in the area of detecting and accounting for multiple accounts of the same death. Study author Burnham, in a media interview (h/t Amp), said “Double counting of deaths was a risk we were concerned with. We went through each record by hand to look for this, and did not find any double counting in this survey. The survey team were experience in community surveys, so they knew to avoid this potential trap.”

If no unique identifiers were gathered, then it is not possible that they went through and checked for duplicates. Either they lied to the respondents, or they lied to the press, or their article inaccurately reflects the methodology that was in place.

Overview and Conclusion

When I completed the first half of this critique, my overall impression was that there were some issues with the study that I found troubling, specifically the strength of their claims regarding the study’s validity and the difficulty their methodology created for other researchers attempting to verify their work. However, I thought that on balance the authors had done an adequate job of a very difficult task, and that – while their numbers were probably a little bit high – they were on the right lines.

I am forced to reconsider that proposition. The exclusion of an indeterminate, but large, fraction of the Iraqi population from the study’s potential range of survey respondents – particularly in view of the fact that the excluded fraction is also the group most likely on common-sense grounds to have avoided mass fatalities – is extremely troubling.  It isn’t a priori proof that the study authors are dishonest or incompetent; it is proof that the study does not measure what it purports to measure. What appears to be an attempt to cover over another flaw, the impossibility of avoiding duplicate reporting under the study’s purported methodology, amplifies my concerns about the study’s integrity.

What are the real civilian casualty figures in Iraq? “Depressingly high” is an unsatisfactory answer, but until someone conducts a proper population-based study, that’s the best we have to go on.

October 22, 2006

They Haven’t a Clue

Filed under: International Politics,Iraq,War — Gled @ 6:21 pm

If leading counterterrorist officials within the American Government don’t even know the difference between Shiite and Sunni, what hope do they have of being able to coordinate an effective response?

October 20, 2006

Substantive Criticisms of the Lancet Report: Part 1

Filed under: Current Events,Debate,Iraq,War — Robert @ 6:12 am

Well, I should be going to bed, but I’m not tired. I can think of nothing better than statistical nitpicking to put me to sleep, so herewith is the first annual Lancet Skeptical Review and Somnolence Soliloquy.

There are two documents in play here. The first one is entitled “The Human Cost of the War in Iraq” and subtitled “A Mortality Study, 2002-2006”. That document can be viewed in the original here. The second document is a companion article which provides some more detail on the study and which can be viewed here. I shall refer to these documents as “the study” and “the article”, respectively.

Let me begin with a quick disclaimer. I am not a trained statistician; any numerical analysis which crawls its way into this post should be viewed with a skeptical eye and read broadly and generally. I am skeptical towards this article’s conclusions on grounds of its consistency with the other things that I know, but this post is not about that inconsistency, and is instead a list of what valid critiques I can come up with against the study and the article. I have skimmed the IBC press release slamming the study, and have glimpsed other criticisms, but have not done any extensive reading in the “opposition research”.

Some of the following criticisms may seem trivial. I have not made an attempt to pick every possible nit, but I have listed each flaw or criticism that I can find in the interest of completeness and thoroughness.

1. My first criticism comes in the first sentence of the first paragraph of the study, which states that 600,000 people have been killed “in the violence of the war that began with the U.S. invasion in March 2003”. This criticism is not statistical, but historical and editorial. The war did not begin in March 2003; the war began in Kuwait on August 2, 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded his neighbor. We do not speak of World War II as beginning on D-Day, or when Operation Torch put Allied troops back into the continental mass in 1942. This may seem a minor quibble, but it is revelatory of an authorial mindset that the war is blamed on the United States, and not on the original aggressor.

2. Later on the first page, the study states “The survey also reflects growing sectarian violence, a steep rise in deaths by
gunshots, and very high mortality among young men.” These are all facially plausible claims, but only the second and third are actually supported by the study. The study goes on to assert “growing sectarian violence”, “sectarian violence”, “sectarian animosity” and “sectarian lines”, again as assertions. These assertions of sectarianism are plausible from what I know, but an attempt appears to be being made to rest the “fact” of sectarianism upon the study’s foundation. No such finding is supported, however.

3. In the Introduction (p. 4), the study authors assert “Such methods [passive data collection such as morgue reports] can provide important information on the types of fatal injuries and trends. It is not possible, however, to use these methods to estimate the burden of conflict on an entire population. Only population-based survey methods can estimate deaths for an entire country.” This is flatly untrue. Survey methods are in most circumstances the best method for estimating a systemic variable like countrywide-deaths, but it is trivial to reach reasonably strong conclusions concerning deaths using counting methods. Demographers do not do this very often, because survey methods are really very powerful. But they could do if they needed to, and in fact they used to quite extensively before the development of the statistical knowledge that permits us to use survey methods. The survey authors here appear to be attempting to bolster the strength of their work by denying any validity to alternative methods. Those other methods, however, function – and the study authors, if they are competent statisticians, know that they function.

4. In the Introduction, the authors claim that 2.5% of Iraq’s population has been killed since the invasion. The casualty figure they use, 654,965, would thus indicate a total Iraqi population of 26,198,600 people. However, the chart on page 5 detailing the population figures as they were used to assign clusters has a total Iraqi population of 27,072,200 people. With that population total, the percentage ought to be 2.4%. Either they are misreporting the figure, or they are using a different population total for their conclusions versus their starting point.

5. On page 5, the authors note that “For ethical reasons, no names were written down, and no incentives were provided to participate.” While it is indeed ethical to refrain from providing incentives, it is difficult to see the ethical merit of making it impossible to verify or check the study results. That information must ethically remain confidential, but in order to validate a demographic study, it must be possible for other researchers to recompile data. This is a major lapse. It may be justified by the security situation, but given the seeming eagerness to participate in the study on the part of the Iraqi people, it seems unlikely that cooperation could not have been elicited even while following standard demographic survey protocols. The survey work is not reproducible.

The lack of name recording, even informally by the survey takers, also opens up a major area of uncertainty. Without recording names, it is impossible to reliably check for duplicate reporting. Household statuses in war zones are not always fixed and immutable. It is entirely possible that the death of a relative who lived in more than one household over the course of the occupation was reported twice or more. This is made even more likely considering that the surveyors went literally house to house in the cluster area; in Iraq, as in many places in the world, it is quite common to see brothers and cousins living in proximity. The magnitude of this effect could be quite small or it could be very substantial, and we will never know because the surveyors did not keep records of the names.

6. Also on page 5, it is noted that 92% of respondents who reported a death were able to produce a death certificate. This is not a priori impossible but it does seem like a high value considering the condition of the country’s health and governmental infrastructure over the period in question. The central bureaucracy is reported by the study authors as failing to retain a miserable one-third of the death certificate information in peacetime, yet the local versions of that same bureaucracy managed to achieve an essentially 100% rating on ensuring that every dead body went through the proper government protocol. This is again not impossible, but there does seem to be a disconnect between these two observations.

7. On page 7, the post-occupation non-violent death rate for the country, as indicated by the current survey reports, is calculated by the study authors as being essentially the same as during the pre-occupation period, with a deteriorating trend beginning to show itself. The authors hypothesize that “this may represent the beginning of a trend toward increasing deaths from deterioration in the health services and stagnation in efforts to improve environmental health in Iraq.” This seems unlikely; it would seem much more reasonable that those infrastructure components would deteriorate rapidly following the invasion and then either slowly recover as coalition troops and Iraqi government agencies restored capacity, or stay at a low level if insurgent activity was sufficient to eradicate any gains made. This is a small but potentially significant indicator that the survey sample used by the authors does not jibe with the overall population of the country.

8. On page 10, the authors compare this study with the 2002 study and find that the surveys indicate similar results. The authors report “That these two surveys were carried out in different locations and two years apart from each other yet yielded results that were very similar to each other, is strong validation of both surveys.” To describe it politely, this is wishful thinking. That the two surveys yielded similar results is a strong validation that the surveys have similar methodology, execution, and sample, and nothing more than that. A smashed barometer will give the same wrong reading a hundred days in a row; this indicates nothing about the weather and everything about the barometer. This is not the only instance of the study authors hyping the strength and quality of their results without providing foundation for the assertion.

I will hopefully post Part 2 of this on Friday, covering the article itself, which contains some fairly serious problems. Thanks for reading thus far. Comments are welcome. (Update: Part 2 posted.)

October 17, 2006

The Great Wall Of China Fallacy

Filed under: Iraq,Statistical Method — Ampersand @ 3:09 pm

From Gateway Pundit (with a curtsy to Crooked Timber):


The Women and Children of Haditha

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Iraq,War — Gled @ 7:16 am

In the headline of his Sunday Herald story, Neil Mackay characterised the atrocity as follows:

Haditha: the worst US atrocity since Vietnam … Iraqi women and children massacred by American marines.

After giving a little background, including a comparison with the My Lai massacre during the Viet Nam war, (“mainly women, children, and the elderly”), he gives the following summary of the events in Haditha:

Minutes after Terrazas died, the remaining 13-strong unit of marines went on a bloody rampage, wiping out whole families, killing women, children and an elderly man in a wheelchair, and hurling grenades into homes. In all, 24 Iraqi civilians were murdered by American troops.

Let’s parse the entire story, to see how many of these women and children were actually men.

In the first house attacked, according to MacKay there was a girl called Eman, her “father… mother, grandfather, grandmother, two brothers, two aunts and two uncles”, of whom one aunt and a niece escape – a total of 12 people in the house to start with. We’re told that Eman and one brother survived, Presumably the escaping Aunt was the “Only one of the adults in the house that day [who] survived.” Also the niece, giving a total of four survivors. We’re told that seven family members died, leaving one unaccounted for, which must have been a child, probably the other brother.

Here’s the tally for house number 1:


2 Men. (Grandfather, Father)
2 Women (Grandmother, Mother)
2 Male probable Adults (Uncles)
1 Female probable Adult (Aunt)


2 or 3 Children (Eman, Brother, maybe other Brother)


1 Woman (aunt)
2 or 1 Children (Niece, maybe other Brother)

The second house contained eight individuals, of whom seven died:

1 Man (Father)
1 Woman (Mother)
1 Female probable Adult (Mother’s Sister)
5 Children

Not killed:

1 Child

House number 3:


4 Men


1 Woman (intentionally spared by the Marines.)



5 Adults (almost certainly all Male)

Total Killed:

7 Men
2 Male probable Adults
5 Adults probably Male
3 Women
2 Female probable adults
5 children.

Of the 24 people killed in this massacre of “women and children”, it looks like at least seven, and probably as many as forteen were men, perhaps five were women, and five were children. Morever it appears that what started out as an indisriminate slaughter, had morphed by the time it reached the third house into a targetted cull of men.

But you really have to dig deep into the story to tease this information out. Would a normally attentive reader who read to the end have realised just how deceptive the headline and summary paragraph were? What about someone who only read as far as the summary paragraph? Or who only read the headline?

In actual fact the gender gap is even more striking. This list of the victims confirms many of the details given in the story. It also confirms some of the assumptions I made in my analysis: The uncles and aunts were indeed adults. The taxi passengers were indeed male. However, there are a couple of discrepancies. Firstly the other brother in the first house, who was indeed a child and who I assumed survived, in fact died. One fewer adult died than MacKay accounts for. Either there was an error in his list, or a second adult escaped. My lack of familiarity with Arab naming conventions means I cannot tell for certain, but my impression is that it was one fewer woman. (Perhaps the “two aunts” were each the mother of the other’s niece, leading Mackay to double-count the mother. However this is speculation.) I assumed the mother’s sister in the second house was an adult who died, but no such person is listed as a casualty. Instead, there is an additional child. The revised tally of the dead is as follows:

14 or 13 Men
3 or 4 Women
7 Children (5 girls, 2 boys)

Update: Fox News confirms the victims’ sexes, though differs again in some of the details.

Three Strategies

There are many ways you could describe this atrocity. It was a massacre of men, and maybe of children, in which a small number of women got caught up. But a massacre of women it was not. How then, does MacKay manage to pass this event off as a massacre of “women and children”? He doesn’t give false information; the factual claims match the United for Peace list almost exactly. Rather it is the placement, and selective concealment of facts which create this impression. The specific errors and omissions which lead me to infer perhaps two more women casualties than there were, were surely unintentional, but the pattern of exclusion, displacement, and incidentalisation which served to marginalise the male victims was not.

Of the three techniques documented by Dr. Jones, exclusion is most obviously at work here. Men were excluded entirely from the headline. The taxi occupants were excluded from the summary paragraph. The phrase “women, children and an elderly man in a wheelchair” appearing as it does superficially to be a characterisation of the victims, not just some of them, serves to exclude the men.

displacement also rears its head in this paragraph. Having highlighted the “worthy” victims – the women, the children, and the disabled old man (therefore “worthy” according to the distorted cultural values at issue), the “unworthy” remainder (who would they be?) are displaced and effectively concealed behind two gender-neutral terms. “Whole families” might suggest that some men were killed, but not necessarily. The phrase is unlikely to be read as asserting that every single member of each of the families was killed, and indeed there were survivors from each of the three families attacked. Likewise the claim that “In all, 24 Iraqi civilians were murdered” does nothing to suggest that any of them were men. Later on in the story, the male occupants of the taxi were displaced into “driver” and “students”.

Finally we see incidentalisation. Dr. Jones explains the process:

Modern news, as noted, is a hierarchical creature. It generally “leads” with the dominant theme of the article, which the headline is also meant to convey. Many newspapers, printing or reprinting an article or wire-service report, will include only (a version of) the headline and the first several paragraphs of the story. Thus, to relegate an important theme to passing mention in the middle reaches of the article, or to introduce it only at the end, is effectively to render it incidental and inconspicuous, if not outright invisible.

MacKay’s treatment of the murdered men is anything but “passing”. Indeed, he is to be commended for merely doing his job his extensive coverage in the middle and latter parts of the article, but one fact, utterly crucial to our understanding of what happened in Haditha is given the scantest attention. By the time they reach the third house, the marines had stopped targetting women and children. (Update: Of course, the women and children had never been targetted. It is likely that it had always been the men the marines were after. Notice how the woman had been able to escape from the first house, even though burdened with a child, while an unencumbered man hadn’t. Nor did they finish off the injured children in both houses. What happened at the third house is that they had stopped disregarding the women and children. Their rage had subsided, just enough for the code of ‘civilian’ immunity to reassert itself, but only for the “default” civilians.)

Feminists tell me that the goal of feminism is not merely to advance the aspirations of women, but to challenge sexist systems which disadvantage men too. The systematic marginalisation and concealment – effacing – of male victims of war surely meets that definition. When will feminists challenge it?

October 12, 2006

Lancet Study Methodology Gives Validation Test

Filed under: Current Events,Iraq — Robert @ 2:40 pm

The Lancet study saying that there are as many as 655,000 extra civilian deaths in Iraq as a result of the war and occupation has attracted considerable interest. Some say the study is right, others point to the disparity between it and other analyses.

There is a small point in the methodology of the Lancet study which I believe may offer a quick and simple facial test of the study’s validity.

The Lancet authors report that they attempted to confirm the death reports given to them by their interview subjects. They report being able to confirm 80% of the death reports by finding official death certificates filed by local and provincial governments. This augments the credibility of this part of their methodology – if, in a war zone, 80% of your self-reports are verified by government records, the reporting you’re getting is probably of good quality.

However, if 80% of the sample’s death reports are verifiable, then a similar fraction of the total population should show similar levels of documentation. There should be 500,000 death certificates on file through Iraq. If there are not, then the study authors have destroyed the presumption of the validity of their sample, because there’s a huge disparity between the sample and the population. From where I sit, there are either a half million death certificates on file somewhere (in which case the Lancet study is noncontroversial, and we have to start asking what is wrong with Iraq Body Count, Brookings Institute, and other non-Pentagon estimates that put the civilian toll in the 50 to 100K range), or we have to ask why the study sample shows such an enormous differentiation on the documentation question.

In other words, show me the death certificates.

October 11, 2006

NY Times Coverage Biased Against Lancet Study

Filed under: Iraq,Statistical Method — Ampersand @ 10:16 am

UPDATE: The Lancet Study can be downloaded here (pdf link). A companion paper, which provides some additional details, can be downloaded here (pdf link).

The New York Times coverage of the new Lancet study of Iraqi deaths, while maintaining an objective tone, is heavily slanted against the study; many of the painfully bad right-wing arguments against the earlier survey are repeated by the Times, usually without rebuttal. For example:


New Lancet Study: 425,000 – 790,000 Excess Iraqi Deaths Since We Invaded

Filed under: Iraq — Ampersand @ 10:09 am

UPDATE: The Lancet Study can be downloaded here (pdf link). A companion paper, which provides some additional details, can be downloaded here (pdf link).

A new study, due to be published on The Lancet’s website today, has found that there have been 655,000 “excess” Iraqi deaths since the US invaded, compared to how many would have died if previous death rates had continued. The confidence interval is from 426,369 to 793,663 deaths. From the Washington Post:


September 25, 2006

Has The US Invasion of Iraq Made Improvement Possible?

Filed under: Debate,Iraq — Ampersand @ 7:47 pm

Some of my previous post on Iraq was quoted from comments I wrote here at Creative Destruction. In that discussion, Bob Hayes suggested that I was failing to consider that the situation in Iraq could be worse:

Making Things Worse In Iraq

Filed under: Iraq — Ampersand @ 7:26 pm

Tim at Balloon Juice quotes from news stories (one, two):

Torture in Iraq may be worse now than it was under Saddam Hussein, with militias, terrorist groups and government forces disregarding rules on the humane treatment of prisoners, the U.N. anti-torture chief said Thursday. […]

A report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq’s Human Rights office cited worrying evidence of torture, unlawful detentions, growth of sectarian militias and death squads, and a rise in “honor killings” of women. […]

According to the U.N. report, the number of Iraqi civilians killed in July and August hit 6,599, a record-high that is far greater than initial estimates suggested, the U.N. report said Wednesday. […]

Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat […]

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” said one American intelligence official.

And from a report quoted on Liberty & Power:

August 10, 2006

Gays in Iraq Targeted For Murder By Insurgents And Government

Filed under: Human Rights,Iraq — Ampersand @ 12:33 am

From the UK newspaper The Observer:

August 2, 2006

Doctor’s Orders

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Iraq — Gled @ 12:27 pm

Barry recently drew my attention to this article, by Nir Rosen, which I described as “a very rare instance of a second order gendering applied to males”. The terminology was defined by Dr. Adam Jones in his paper Effacing the Male (emphasis in original):

A first-order gendering is focused at the level of the individual person, case, or event. In the Kosovo context, this might be a reference to the rape of a particular Kosovar woman, or a given case of mass rape; for Kosovar males, it might be a reference to the gender-selective execution of a man, or a given mass execution.

A second-order gendering of the same subject seeks to isolate a pattern of victimization. In so doing, it directs the audience to broader conceptual and experiential similarities that bind individual persons, cases, and events — though the pattern is still restricted in its territorial reach, geographical scope, and historical time. In the context of the Kosovo conflict, this could mean isolating a pattern of rape of women in the conflict, or a pattern of gender-selective executions of men.

A third-order gendering extends the analysis beyond the boundaries of the immediate conflict, region, and contemporary time-frame. It usually seeks to make broad generalizations about regional, global, and/or historical trends. Again to use our Kosovo examples, this might involve placing the rape of Kosovar women against the broader backdrop of rape as a tool of war in the Balkans in the 1990s. It might go further still, and examine the sexual assault of women as a feature of warfare across civilizations and throughout history. A similar perspective on gender-selective executions of men would seek to place these killings against a regional and global-historical backdrop.

This concept of first, second, and third ordering is an extraordinarily powerful metaanalytical tool whose application is by no means limited to the field of gender studies. A non-gendered example would be a news report which describes individual incidents where actions by American forces in Iraq have caused friction with the local population leading to anti-American feelings (first order), isolates a pattern of such incidents throughout occupied Iraq (second order), and generalises further, seeking to explain regional or global anti-Americanism (or anti-superpower-of-the-dayism) as a consequence of American (etc.) actions generally (third order).

Dr. Jones clarifies the boundary between first and second order in footnote 15:

the other […] acts of gendercide mentioned briefly in the article [by James Rubin] are the following: “As many as several hundred thousand ethnic Albanian men may have been detained or harmed by Yugoslav government security forces in the past three weeks. … In the southern Kosovo city of Djakovica … more than 100 ethnic Albanians were reportedly slain by Interior Ministry troops and paramilitaries. … Another [n.b.] 112 men were allegedly shot and burned in the southern Kosovo town of Malakrusa … as many as 200 ‘military-age’ men may have been slain in the northern city of Podujevo …” At no point in the article, however, is any pattern of gender-selective mass executions discerned.

(Bracketed elipisis and italics are mine. unbracketed elipsis are his.)

Although Dr. Jones does not say so explicitly, it’s clear from the last sentence that he does not regard this to be an example of second order gendering. Although a “pattern of gender-selective mass executions” is discernable, at least to those readers looking for it, it is not discerned by the author. He does not “seek[] to isolate” it or “direct[] the audience to broader conceptual and experiential similarities”.

With that clarification in mind, it’s clear that Rosen’s article is a sophisticated second-order analysis of what can be described as “insensitivity” at best, and “brutality” at worst on the part of US forces toward the Iraqi people. There is a single third-order reference to My Lai.

It’s equally clear, that the gendering in the article is overwhelmingly first-order: the pattern is there, but it is not “discerned” or “isolated”, nor for the most part is our attention “directed to broader conceptual experiential similarities”. There is a glimmer of second ordering when Rosen said “I grew to fear the unpredictable American military, which could kill me for looking like an Iraqi male of fighting age” (my italics), but the gender theme receives no further higher order attention.

It is not my intention to fault Rosen’s excellent article. No essay can cover every aspect of a situation, and a good one will choose its theme and stick to it. Rosen does just that. His theme is no less important than mine, it hardly suffers from a surfeit of quality coverage, and he covers it without effacing the male in the process.

That’s exceptional. It ought to be the norm.

July 31, 2006

Conservatives Slander Feminists and Whitewash Harms To Iraqi Women

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Iraq — Ampersand @ 12:44 pm

Judith at Kesher Talk engages in a little feminist-bashing:

July 29, 2006

Then and Now

Filed under: Content-lite,Iraq — Gled @ 10:38 pm

…the Ministry of Plenty’s forecast had estimated the output of boots for the quarter at one-hundred-and-forty-five million pairs. The actual output was given as sixty-two millions. Winston, however, in rewriting the forecast, marked the figure down to fifty-seven millions, so as to allow for the usual claim that the quota had been overfulfilled. In any case, sixty-two millions was no nearer the truth than fifty-seven millions, or than one-hundred-and-forty-five millions. Very likely no boots had been produced at all. Likelier still, nobody knew how many had been produced, much less cared. All one knew was that every quarter astronomical numbers of boots were produced on paper, while perhaps half the population of Oceania went barefoot. And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small…

George Orwell in “Nineteen Eighty-four”

Now, nearly three years after this war, the buildings are still piles of debris. Electricity is terrible. Water is cut off for days at a time. Telephone lines come and go. Oil production isn’t even at pre-war levels… and Iraqis hear about the billions upon billions that come and go. A billion here for security… Five hundred million there for the infrastructure… Millions for voting… Iraq falling into deeper debt… Engineers without jobs simply because they are not a part of this political party or that religious group… And the country still in shambles.

River in “Bagdad Burning”, 18 January 2006

July 24, 2006

The hidden war on men in Iraq – part 3

Filed under: Blogosphere,Feminist Issues,Iraq — Gled @ 8:22 am

In his post about the Hidden war on women Barry complains

And the number of pro-war Americans who have written or blogged honestly about the catastrophic decline in women’s rights in Iraq can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Are they sociopaths? Are they so racist and misogynistic that they’re incapable of caring what happens to non-white women? Are they so loyal to Bush that they think that the harm of saying one critical word about Bush outweighs the harm Bush’s policies have done to countless Iraqi women? What’s wrong with them?

I wonder whether Barry would like to see mainstream feminists including himself held to the same standard. Can he identify more than a handful who have blogged honestly about the catastrophic gender-selective targeting of men for slaughter in Iraq and elsewhere? Can he identify any?

I’m not pro-war (or American, for that matter), so the above comment was obviously not directed at me. Nevertheless, I haven’t blogged about women’s rights in Iraq either. This isn’t because I don’t recognise that women’s rights have been eroded. Nor is it because I think this unimportant. I haven’t done so because I’m under the impression that its a subject which is already well-covered in the blogosphere, and there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said better. Men’s rights are a different matter.

Is this impression correct? A google blog search on the words ‘Iraq women rights‘ turns up about 2500-2600 hits. (For technical reasons, you need to repeat the search several times, the figure changes slightly each time and is occasionally anomolously different) Moreover, inspecting the first few pages of returns reveal that the majority are indeed talking about women’s rights in Iraq. The corresponding search on ‘Iraq men rights‘ turns up about the same number of hits – 2500-2600. But most of them are false positives – pages that happen to contain these words, but aren’t talking about men’s rights in Iraq.

Perhaps this is an unfair comparison. It’s possible that people are talking about the e killing of men, but not framing it as a rights issue. Searching on ‘Iraq men killed‘ yields 2900 results. Again, the majority appear to be false positives, though there are a few valid hits including, ahem, the the top return. The corresponding search on ‘Iraq women killed‘ yields about the same number – 2900 – almost none of them false positives.

The overwhelming majority of deaths in Iraq have been male, and almost certainly the majority of non-combatent deaths have been male. The coverage, in contrast has focussed upon the female deaths. In the field of victimology at least, Barry’s claim that “Men are Centered, women are Othered” is a 180 degree reversal of the truth.

July 23, 2006

The hidden war on men in Iraq – Part 2.

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Iraq,War — Gled @ 4:13 pm

Barry asks for evidence.

Daran, provide me with some evidence that non-combatant men have been killed more than non-combatant women.

(Edit: I respond to other points he makes in that post here.)

If the Lancet’s breakdown of civilian casualties is accurate, then that statement is true if 5 or fewer in 38 violent adult civilian male deaths (including those not caused directly by coalition forces) were of non-combatants. Lets put that another way, for this to be not true, about 7 in every 8 such casualties would have to be combatants. This assumes that none of the women killed were combatants. If any were, then the ratio would have to be even greater.

The (overwhelmingly male) victims documented here do not appear to be combatents.

Then there’s this report and this one describing gender-selective slaughters of men which do not appear to be combatant-selective.

(Update: Barry has since drawn my attention to this article which shows many innocent people – overwhelmingly male – engulfed by the Coalition’s dragnet search for insurgents.

And how about this: They pull up to houses in minivans and SUVs, armed with machineguns and sometimes grenades. They barge into the house and demand money and gold. If they don’t find enough, they abduct a child or female and ask for ransom. Sometimes the whole family is killed- sometimes only the male members of the family are killed..(My bold.)

In another comment Barry said:

But the assumption that all men are combatants, and all women and children are not, is unjustified.

I presume he wouldn’t disagree with this proposition with “most” substituted for the first “all”. I think the burden of proof now lies with him, if he wishes to assert that a sufficiently high proportion of the male deaths are combatents to falsify the proposition.

July 22, 2006

A critique of the critique

Filed under: Debate,Iraq,War — Gled @ 5:45 pm

Adam recently cited this critique by Fred Kaplan of the Lancet’s survey of civilian casualties in Iraq. I will leave the defence of the survey to others. In this post, I focus on the critique.

The Lancet study, as Kaplan correctly observes, basically stands for the proposition that the number civilian causalties during the survey period is unlikely to be less than 8000, or more than 194,000. Kaplan characterises this finding as “meaningless”, which observation he bases purely on the width of the confidence interval.

He then goes on to refer to the Iraq Body Count, saying

The IBC estimates that between 14,181 and 16,312 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the war—about half of them since the battlefield phase of the war ended last May. The group also notes that these figures are probably on the low side, since some deaths must have taken place outside the media’s purview.

The IBC’s finding then, is that the number of civilian casualties is unlikely to be less than 14,000 and quite probably much more. It gives no upper limit. Kaplan is full of praise for the IBC and considers its results to be a sound basis upon which to estimate the casualties. He suggests a figure in the range of 20,000 to 30,000.

I agree entirely with Kaplan’s fullsome praise of the IBC. I also agree that a lower bound of 8,000 is less informative than one of 14,000, but I fail to see why the range [14,000-infinity] should be any more or less “meaningful” than [8,000-194,000].

I also agree with him that the Lancet’s central figure of 98,000 should be taken with a pinch of salt, but it does at least have the virtue of being a statistical calculation. Kaplan would have us eschew this figure in favour of a range which has no basis that I can see other than that he personally find it plausible.

But the true drawdropping irony in all of this is that Adam, apparently with a straight face, should cite this claptrap in a post exhorting the rest of us to higher standards of evidence!

The Lancet Article

Filed under: International Politics,Iraq,Statistical Method — Adam Gurri @ 1:44 pm

As I unintentionally walked into a debate on this issue, I thought I’d take the time to look at it by itself.


July 19, 2006

The hidden war on men in Iraq.

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Iraq,War — Gled @ 6:24 pm

In a recent comment Toy Soldier said:

…it is far more likely that men and boys have shouldered the brunt of the war [in Iraq]

He’s right of course. I was researching this with a view to blogging about it, and just about every source confirms that, bad though things are for women in Iraq, it is overwhelmingly men and boys who have suffered and are continuing to suffer violence in Iraq.

I did come across one piece of apparently contradictory information from the BBC’s website reporting on the Lancet’s 2004 study.

Violent deaths were mainly attributed to coalition forces – and most individuals reportedly killed were women and children.

The study (pdf) does indeed make this claim:

Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children.

Feminists would indeed have a point in their portrayal of women as the primary victims, at least with regard to coalition-caused deaths, if that were an accurate and fair categorisation of the study’s findings. But it is?

In fact the 61 recorded post-invasion deaths directly attributed to coalition forces breakdown as follows:

Men 15-65 years – 27 deaths
Boys under 15 years – 16 deaths
Total males – 43 deaths

Women 15-65 years – 4 deaths
Girls under 15 years – 10 deaths
Total females – 14 deaths

Adults (Sex not recorded) over 59 Years – 2 deaths
Children (Sex not recorded) under 15 years – 2 deaths

Total Children – 28 deaths
Total “woman and children” – 32 deaths

It is literally true that “women and children” are the majority of the victims. It is also grossly misleading. Of the four major demographic groups (excluding the elderly) women suffered the least. The plurality of the causalties were adult men. The next largest group was boys. There were more boys killed than female adults and children put together. Males accounted for nearly three quarters of the deaths.

But it’s worse than that. Excluded from these figures are twelve violent deaths (11 adult men, 1 adult woman) not directly attributed to the coalition, up from one prior to the invasion. It’s likely that the great majority of these deaths are a result of the breakdown in civil order caused by the invasion. If these deaths are factored in, then the male deaths increase to 38 – an absolute majority of the casualties.

That the authors of the report distorted their own findings and the medial latched onto it in this way, should come as no surprise to anyone. We live in a culture that puts a high value on female life, while regarding men as dispensable, disposable cannon-fodder, and no opportunity is missed to focus attention upon the more worthy victims. Male combattents, most of whom had little or no choice in the matter, are not even considered worthy of being counted.

July 15, 2006

Women and Iraq

Filed under: Iraq,War — Robert @ 10:47 pm

Ampersand is convinced that Iraq represents a catastrophic screw-up, and he’s pissed off at pro-war bloggers like myself for not admitting it.

Aside from the discrimination in favor of women’s suffering (“World Ends; Women, Minorities Hardest Hit”) , which can be explained readily by the admirable Burkean parochialism that makes Amp a good guy, I’m a little baffled at Amp’s post. But his candor and anger are real, and so I want to address him honestly.

Amp, on the war: “if it was fought to free Iraqis, then the effort has been a dismal failure…”

This just seems so radically out of touch to me that I don’t know how to address it. Amp presents the (very real) decline in the safety and level of privilege enjoyed by Iraqi women under Saddam as being the entire picture of the “freeing” of the Iraqis. On the question of safety, I think that we must concede the Iraqi security situation is not very good. But it is not the worst place in the world, either, and it has real prospects to improve.

As for the privilege: under Amp’s own expressed view of society, privilege bestowed by unjust social orders is not an entitlement. The Iraqi women who had “freedom” and standing in Hussein’s Iraq were privileged by their relative positions in a fascist hierarchy. It was the wife of the Ba’ath Party district chairman who walked the street in safety; the 17-year old Marsh Arab girl lived a life of terror. It is a damn shame that the wife’s position has fallen. for now, below what it should be under any society – of that let’s have no doubt. But nor can we forget what a brutal and unjust society it is that has been given a thorough shaking out.

Leftists like Amp advocate a radical overhaul of our own society, on the grounds that it too is brutal and unjust. They (generally) want peaceful means – but it’s a radical shaking out that they would have. Yet when a society that was inarguably a lot rougher than ours gets knocked around some, it’s a Huge Moral Outrage. Why such defensiveness of the privilege of the elites, without any articulation of the oppression visited on the underclasses?

I guess that in my view, I put a lot more weight on potential than I do on position. I think it’s better to be a struggling free society – even if you’ve been knocked back to square two on the great game board – than a relatively privileged but stultifyingly authoritarian thugocracy. Going from safe streets under Saddam to mean streets under whoever-the-hell-is-elected seems like a step in the right direction to me. I recognize that I don’t have to bear the risks of that directly, but it’s the choice I would make for my own country if the need arose, for whatever that’s worth.

Ruth Rosen: The Hidden War On Women In Iraq

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Iraq,War — Ampersand @ 2:06 am

At TomDispatch, a horrifying but not surprising article by Ruth Rosen on women’s conditions in Iraq post-invasion.

There’s no way I can quote all the important parts of this article, but here’s a few samples:

July 13, 2006

American Soldiers Arrested For Rape/Execution Of 14-Year Old Girl And Her Family

Filed under: Current Events,Feminist Issues,Iraq — Ampersand @ 2:03 pm

From the New York Times:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 6 — The United States ambassador and the top American military commander here together issued an unusual apology on Thursday for the rape and murder of a young Iraqi woman and the killing of her family, saying that the crime, in which at least four soldiers are suspects, had injured the “Iraqi people as a whole.”

I’ve seen many U.S. media stories make the same mistake the Times makes here. In virtually any context other than a crime committed by US soldiers, a 14 year old girl who was raped and murdered would be called a girl, not a “woman.”

“We understand this is painful, confusing and disturbing, not only to the family who lost a loved one, but to the Iraqi people as a whole,” the two senior officials said in a written statement. “The loss of a family member can never be undone. The alleged events of that day are absolutely inexcusable and unacceptable behavior.”

The statement is all the more unusual because no soldiers have been convicted yet or even formally charged.

Steven Green, accused rapist and murderer, and a painfully ironic headlineWhat I find unusual about the statement, as quoted, is that whoever wrote the “apology” didn’t even read the news reports, or he’d know that four people – Abeer Qasim Hamza, who was raped before she was shot in the head; her parents Qasim Hamza Rasheed al-Janabi and Fakhriya Taha Muheisin al-Janabi, and her six-year-old sister Hadeel Qasim Hamza al-Janabi – had been murdered.

Not “a loved one.” Four loved ones. (Abeer’s two younger brothers were fortunately not home, which is presumably why they’re still alive.)

Does it need to be mentioned that all five soldiers arrested so far have been men?

Heart has been doing outstanding blogging about this appalling hate crime (here, here, here). In her first post about the rape/murders, she quotes the lyrics of a song written by an American soldier. A video that found its way on to the internet showed “The song… performed before thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq who could be heard wildly cheering and laughing in the background.” In the song, a seductive Iraqi woman tempts an American Marine into her home, where she and her insurgent family attempt to murder him.

They pulled out their AKs so I could see

And they said…
Durka Durka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah

(with humorous emphasis:)
So I grabbed her little sister, and pulled her in front of me.

As the bullets began to fly
The blood sprayed from between her eyes
And then I laughed maniacally

Then I hid behind the TV
And I locked and loaded my M-16
And I blew those little f*ckers to eternity.

The soldier had been planning to release a recording of his song, but in light of recent events he’s put off (or perhaps been ordered to put off) those plans. Not canceled them, mind you. Put them off.

A couple of right-wing bloggers (here here and here) find it ridiculous that Heart sees a connection between an ever-so-funny song about shooting a sexy insurgent and her family to death, and the actual rape and murder that took place.

Seelhoff quotes the Hadji Girl song, and (with typical Feminist logic) segues from a discussion of a humorous skit of a Marine turning the tables on insurgents who attack him, to the case of several soldiers from the 101th Airborne Division of the US Army, not Marines, who have been accused by Iraqis of participating in an incident of rape and murder in the Iraqi city of Mahmoudiya.

(Note the author’s emphasis on the word “Iraqis” – the implication being that the story is not true. When this rape/murder was first reported in American media, the initial reaction of some in the rightosphere was to assume that it couldn’t possibly be true. See, for example, here and here: “…to take seriously the notion that FIVE soldiers gang-raped a girl, murdered her, burned her body, and then murdered her family to cover up the crime is simply beyond the pale. It would make a good movie script, but it’s just too far out there to even begin to take seriously.”)

I think Heart’s point is actually pretty simple: A culture in which a wacky novelty song about killing a seductive Iraqi insurgent and her family is popular and liked, is a culture that is encouraging misogyny and hate against women, and racist hate against all Iraqis. Did “Hadji Girl” cause these five soldiers to rape and murder? No, of course not. But the same cultural racism and misogyny that has (wrongly) convinced thousands of soldiers that “Hadji Girl” is acceptable as entertainment, also convinced these five (or possibly more than five?) men that it was acceptable to rape and murder an Iraqi family.

Oddly enough, right-wingers make this sort of connection all the time, when they (correctly) suggest that hateful anti-Israel propaganda stems is connected to murderous attacks on Israelis, even when there’s no evidence that any particular article was a direct cause of any particular attack. So why is the connection so hard to make when the hatred is directed at Iraqis and Iraqi women in particular?

I am in no way saying that this sort of thing is unique to Americans, or unique to soldiers. Gang-rape is always a weapon used against civilians — nearly always women and girls — in war, but it’s also used against civilians — nearly always women and girls — at home. Ms. Jared, in a comment left on Heart’s blog, linked to this recent story:

More arrests are likely in the rape of an 11-year-old girl by as many as 10 men, most of whom are football players at local community colleges, Fresno police said.

It’s not a coincidence that so many gang rapes are committed by young men in organizations – football, frat houses, the army, etc – which teach the young men that “being a man” is all-important. The sense of entitlement and manhood that convinced the young men in Fresno to rape is the same as the sense of entitlement and manhood that convinced the young men in Iraq to rape; the main difference, I would guess, is that the young men in Iraq had been subjected to a racist regime, devaluing Iraqi lives, which convinced them that it was all right to murder as well.

Please go read Heart’s posts. A lot of the info and links above came from Heart, and also from Feministing, Abyss2Hope, Feminist Law Profs, Footnotes From a Small Village, and Capitalism Bad Tree Pretty.

UPDATE: Ms. Jared, in comments, points me to this post from Riverbend, an Iraqi blogger:

Rape. The latest of American atrocities. Though it’s not really the latest- it’s just the one that’s being publicized the most. The poor girl Abeer was neither the first to be raped by American troops, nor will she be the last. The only reason this rape was brought to light and publicized is that her whole immediate family were killed along with her. Rape is a taboo subject in Iraq. Families don’t report rapes here, they avenge them. We’ve been hearing whisperings about rapes in American-controlled prisons and during sieges of towns like Haditha and Samarra for the last three years. The naiveté of Americans who can’t believe their ‘heroes’ are committing such atrocities is ridiculous. Who ever heard of an occupying army committing rape??? You raped the country, why not the people?

…Imagine your 14-year-old sister or your 14-year-old daughter. Imagine her being gang-raped by a group of psychopaths and then the girl was killed and her body burned to cover up the rape. Finally, her parents and her five-year-old sister were also killed. Hail the American heroes…

Read the whole thing.

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