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Thursday, August 17, 2006

It's good to be King

How will Republicans talk about Iraq this fall? That could be a critical factor determining whether or not the Democrats can win one or both houses of Congress in 2006.

Well, one of the most conservative members of Congress, Republican Steve King from Iowa received a lot of attention two months ago for making this claim about Iraq on the floor of the House of Representatives:
"27.51 Iraqis per 100,000 die a violent death on an annual basis. 27.51. Now what does that mean? To me, it really doesn't mean a lot until I compare it to people that I know or have a feel for the rhythm of this place. Well I by now have a feel for the rhythm of this place called Washington, D.C., and my wife lives here with me, and I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, she's at far greater risk being a civilian in Washington, D.C. than an average civilian in Iraq. 45 out of every 100,000 Washington, D.C. regular residents die a violent death on an annual basis."
King's claim is nearly as egregious as one made by Fox anchor Brit Hume, who back in 2003 asserted that US soldiers (then dying at a rate of 1.7 per day) were safer in Iraq than average people are in California (which has 6.6 murders per day). To justify his claim, Hume noted that California and Iraq are nearly the same geographic size!

Hume failed to note that California has a population of 33.8 million people, while Iraq has hosted only about 160,000 US soldiers even when the troop rotations have been boosted for significant threats -- related to elections, etc. If the US deployed just 1.6 million soldiers, and if they were killed at the same rate, that would mean a death rate of 17 per day -- and California would still have more than 20 times as many people. That was a foolish comparison .

If I were a Democrat running for Congress, I think I'd want my opponent to make these kinds of delusional comments about Iraq. The American people know that "stability and order" have not yet arrived in Iraq -- verbal trickery is NOT going to change that.

I want to look in a more detailed fashion at King's remarks. First, consider what King admits he didn't count:
King said that with the help of the Congressional Research Service and a Web site that tracks Iraqi deaths, he and his staff compiled statistics on how many civilians per 100,000 in Iraq die a violent death. He said he did not include police - because they are involved in combat - and other members of the Iraqi military....

King said he did not have the ability to break out figures for Baghdad, where much of the violence in Iraq has occurred, and which would provide a city-to-city comparison.
These errors significantly distort the data. There have been 2200+ police deaths in Iraq since March 2003. Iraq's population is less than 10% of America's, but only 155 American police offers died in the line of duty in 2004 -- and half of those were killed in traffic accidents!

A study by the Brookings Institution reveals what even President Bush knows and discusses publicly-- that Baghdad is a particularly nasty place to live:
Brookings arrived at a Baghdad violent death rate of 100 per 100,000, as of May, but cautioned that "our estimates could be too high as some of the gunshot victims may be insurgents killed intentionally by the U.S. military, or too low since many murder victims are never taken to the morgue but buried quickly and privately and therefore never recorded in official tallies."
Clearly, Baghdad isn't safer than the US capital. According to the assistant director of the Baghdad morgue, 90% of the deaths this past July (2006) were due to violence.

King also cherry-picked the data about Washington DC, which in 2003 had a violent death rate (45 per 100,000) significantly higher than it did in 2005:
Brookings also noted that the homicide rate for Washington in 2005 was 35 per 100,000, down from the 2003 rate quoted by King.
If we reversed King's deception, he looks like a complete idiot because the national U.S. violent death rate is 4.2 per 100,000.
National rate: Iraq 27 (by King's count); US 4
Capital rate: Baghdad 100; Washington, DC 35
I hope every Republican running for Congress asks Steve King to visit and campaign. So long as voters aren't getting their news exclusively from Brit Hume, they should be able to spot the fools.

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