EDITORIAL: 600,000-plus Iraqis dead

A just-released report by U.S. and Iraqi public health researchers estimates that 600,000 Iraqi civilians have died in violence there since President George W. Bush ordered U.S. troops to invade in March 2003. In the study, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health surveyed 1,849 families in 47 different neighborhoods around Iraq.

While the researchers found the percentage of deaths involving U.S.-led coalition forces has dropped in the past year, they said occupation forces were involved in 31 percent of all violent deaths since the invasion.

By contrast, Human Rights Watch has estimated that the regime of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein killed between 250,000 and 290,000 Iraqis over a period of two decades.

Though the U.S. military — which has itself suffered over 2,700 deaths so far — disputes the study’s findings, it has not released its own figures for Iraqi deaths. It did, however, say in an earlier report that daily averages of killed and injured Iraqi civilians, police and soldiers grew from 26 per day in 2004 to almost 120 a day in August of this year.

The Bush administration claims its objective is to help the Iraqi people build democracy. That brings to mind the Vietnam-era U.S. claim that it was necessary to “destroy the village in order to save it.”

It’s hardly surprising that a new poll taken last month by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes shows a large majority — 71 percent — of Iraqis want their government to ask U.S. forces to leave Iraq within a year or less. Or that a USA Today/Gallup poll earlier this month found 56 percent of Americans think the Bush administration “made a mistake” in sending troops there.

If the U.S. war and occupation is not bringing security to the Iraqi people, or helping them to rebuild their economic, political and social life, it’s past time to try another approach. Bring our troops home quickly, and let the Iraqi people determine their next steps, which could include a United Nations role.