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Thursday, July 22, 2004

More Grave Numbers, cont.

By way of Cursor, there is this analysis by the UK press, as opposed to the US, of just how the Blair government might have been able to come up with those numbers in the first place (either three or four hundred thousand bodies in mass graves, depending on which Blair quote you choose). From the always illuminating Guardian:

For pro-war commentators, claims that there were at least 300,000 bodies in mass graves became the trump card in debates about the war, overriding the anti-war lobby's concerns about the failure to find WMD or the chaos caused by the coalition's military intervention. "According to the latest estimates, the mass graves in Iraq contain the remains of at least 300,000 people, but we're still arguing about whether the war was 'justified'," wrote Mark Steyn in the Daily Telegraph.

So what is the coalition's evidence to substantiate the numbers cited? The coalition's claims are based less on investigation and excavation than on guesswork.

Blair stated that the graves of 300,000 have already been found. Yet when I asked Joanna Levison of the US state department how many bodies have been exhumed, she said: "Through official procedures? None." Levison, who has taken over from Sandra Hodgkinson as head of the coalition's mass graves action plan, says that more than 270 grave sites have been reported and over 50 confirmed. At some of these there have been "community-led exhumations", where Iraqis have desperately dug around for the remains of loved ones, "but no coalition-led exhumations".

None. But if that's the case:

With no evidence by way of officially exhumed bodies, how did the coalition arrive at the estimate of 300,000 buried in mass graves? Levison says there is an "international consensus" that this number of Iraqis perished under the Ba'athists. Forrest believes that he might, inadvertently, have played a part in giving prominence to this figure. He says journalists in Iraq constantly asked his team how many were in the graves. "So we adopted the Human Rights Watch figure of 290,000, and rounded it up to 300,000."

Which was, remember, subsequently "rounded up" again to 400,000 by Blair, and up to 1,000,0000 by Allawi. To give Allawi some credit where it's due, though, he hasn't claimed these million souls have already been discovered...which is precisely what Blair and Bush have both been pushing on the public. Besides:

...HRW's figure is an estimate for the number of Iraqis who disappeared under the Ba'athists, "many of whom are believed to have been killed" - not for the number buried in mass graves. HRW itself refuses to use its figure of 290,000 as an estimate for the number of bodies in mass graves. The group's senior researcher in Baghdad says: "How can we conclude that they are all in mass graves? We won't know that until there have been full-scale exhumations of the grave sites. There have been no official exhumations yet."

More, undoubtedly, unfortunately, to come.

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