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Monday, January 15, 2007


How many innocent Iraqis are killed directly by the American military?

This is an important question, perhaps critical to the ongoing prosecution of the wider war on terror. I write that because winning hearts and minds of Muslims around the world arguably matters more than "winning" on the ground -- and al Jazeera broadcasts images of the often brutal deaths throughout the Muslim world. Unfortunately, the available information does not show any kind of casualty breakdown -- but the effects seem clear.

A sliver of information was recently revealed in an article explaining how the military is trying to train its soldiers in the difficulties they will face in Iraq. The past outcomes were not great:
Marines are also under orders to shoot to kill if a vehicle crosses the "trigger line," the inside edge of the last of four security zones between the outside world and a fortification. So, a coyote [slang for Marine instructor] asked the grunts, why would an Iraqi cross that line? "Maybe his wife's pregnant. He's trying to get her to the hospital. That happens all the time. Maybe he's just a fucking retard." The instructor offered up another example culled from experience: "Marines grab an Arabic sign. They throw it out at the blockingposition thinking, 'That's a stop sign,' when in actuality it says, 'Coalition Checkpoint, Proceed With Caution.' What do you think the Iraqis do? They fucking proceed with caution, and they proceed to get lit up."

Two different instructors backed up this scenario with a stunning statistic: "Over the last 12 months or so we killed about 1,000 Iraqis at blocking positions and checkpoints," the first coyote told the grunts. "About 60—six-zero—we could demonstrate that, yeah, he was a bad guy, he was an insurgent. Six-zero out of about 1,000. So if we don't communicate what we want them to do, all we're doing is creating more enemies." The second instructor later offered up the same figures, concluding: "So obviously, 900-something innocent Iraqis have been killed. That's pretty shitty numbers, right?"
This marine instructor estimate of more than 900 innocent Iraqis killed at checkpoints is not far off the Central Command's numbers:
According to CENTCOM's records, as of July, two Iraqi civilians were killed by Coalition troops at checkpoints or by convoys each week, down from an average of seven per week a year earlier. A total of 668 civilians were killed or injured in "escalation of force incidents" over the 12-month period from July 2005 to June 2006.
Each of those tragic deaths likely spawns anger -- and perhaps reprisals against American troops.

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