To paraphrase W.H. Auden,

The clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade;
The unmentionable odor of death
Offends the December night. 

A status-of-forces agreement signed by the Bush administration in late 2008 specified that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn by December 2011, and early on Sunday, December 18, 2011, "the very last American convoy made its way down the main highway that connects Iraq and Kuwait. . . . A few minutes before 8:00 a.m., the metal gate behind the last MRAP closed.  With it came to an end a deadly and divisive war that lasted almost nine years, its enormous cost calculated in blood and billions," CNN reported.[1]  --  The Obama administration even "turned over the last remaining prisoner in American custody in Iraq to the Iraqi government on Friday, a move expected to unleash a political backlash inside the United States even as the American military draws closer to completing its exit," the New York Times reported late Friday.[2]  --  COMMENT:  CNN said that "[m]ore than 4,500 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq; more than 30,000 wounded. . . . It's impossible to know with certainty the number of Iraqis who have died in Iraq since 2003.  But the independent public database Iraq Body Count has compiled reports of more than 150,000 . . ."[1]  --  While it may be "impossible to know with certainty the number of Iraqis who have died in Iraq since 2003," it is possible to know with certainty that the Iraq Body Count is nowhere near an accurate estimate.  --  The best studies estimate:  (1) 601,000 violent Iraqi deaths attributable to the U.S.-led invasion as of July 2006 (Johns Hopkins study published in the Lancet; (2) 1,033,000 Iraqis killed violently since the U.S. invasion as of August 2007 (Opinion Research Business poll).[3]  --  The absence of these figures from the articles reproduced below repeats what has been the pattern all along.  --  When the 2008 ORB estimate was published, U.S. media did not report it.  --  In 2007, the U.S. denied entry to a doctor who was a co-author of the 2006 Lancet study; U.S. media did not report that, either.  --  We posted the full text of the Oct. 12, 2006 Lancet article, entitled "Mortality after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: A Cross-Sectional Cluster Sample Survey," but who reads UFPPC's website?  --  Awareness that this deliberate silence is the rule and not the exception led Harold Pinter to say in his 2005 Nobel Prize speech:  "Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries.  Did they take place?  And are they in all cases attributable to U.S. foreign policy?  The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy.  But you wouldn't know it.  It never happened.  Nothing ever happened.  Even while it was happening it wasn't happening.  It didn't matter. It was of no interest.  The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them.  You have to hand it to America.  It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good.  It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.  I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever."  --  "The man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest," as Paul Simon put it.  --  Or, as Kurt Vonnegut would put it, "Cheers." ...



By Moni Basu

December 18, 2011

Early Sunday, as the sun ascended to the winter sky, the very last American convoy made its way down the main highway that connects Iraq and Kuwait.

The military called it its final "tactical road march." A series of 110 heavily armored, hulking trucks and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles carrying about 500 soldiers streamed slowly but steadily out of the combat zone.

A few minutes before 8 a.m., the metal gate behind the last MRAP closed. With it came to an end a deadly and divisive war that lasted almost nine years, its enormous cost calculated in blood and billions.

Some rushed to touch the gate, forever a symbol now of an emotional, landmark day.  Some cheered with the Army's ultimate expression of affirmation:  "Hooah!"

Once, when hundreds of thousands of Americans were in Iraq, the main highway was better known as Main Supply Route Tampa and soldiers trekked north towards Baghdad and beyond, never knowing what danger lurked on their path.

On this monumental day, the Texas-based 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division's main concern was how to avoid a traffic jam on their final journey in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Gaumer, 37, was on this road in August 2003.  It was his first time at war.  He was frightened.

There was not a lot of traffic at that time, he recalled.  He remembered a lot of cheering by Iraqis, even though the situation was tense.

Sunday morning, the air was decidedly different.

"It's pretty historic," he said about the drive south, hoping he will not ever have to come back through this unforgiving terrain again.

Once there were bases sprinkled in the desolate desert between Nasiriya and Basra, American soldiers hidden from view behind walls of giant mesh Hesco bags filled with dirt and sand to stave off incoming fire.

On this day, the roads, the bases were in Iraqi hands, the sands in the bags returned to the earth.

Once, almost nine years ago in March 2003, U.S. tanks and armored personnel carriers had thundered north, with the drive and determination needed to decapitate a dictator.

On this day, heading south towards Khabari border crossing, the soldiers took stock of their sacrifice.

In another war, there had been little joy or even emotion as final jet transports lifted Americans from Vietnamese soil.

Sunday saw the end of the largest troop drawdown for the United States since Vietnam.

Those men and women who fought in Iraq may not feel they are leaving behind an unfinished war or returning home to a nation as deeply scarred as it was after years of Vietnam.

But many crossed the border harboring mixed feelings and doubt about the future of Iraq.

"The biggest thing about going home is just that it's home," Gaumer said.  "It's civilization as I know it -- the Western world, not sand and dust and the occasional rain here and there."

A month ago, Adder, the last U.S. base before the five-hour drive to the Kuwaiti border, housed 12,000 people.  By Thursday, the day the United States formally ended its mission in Iraq with a flag-casing ceremony in Baghdad, under 1,000 people remained there.

The 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division officially transferred control of Camp Adder to the Iraqis on Friday, though it did not really change hands until the last American departed early Sunday morning.

At its height, Adder housed thousands of troops and had a large PX, fast-food outlets, coffee shops and even an Italian restaurant.  Now a ghost town, the United States gave 110,000 items left at Adder to the Iraqis, a loot worth $76 million, according to the military.

In her last days working in a guard tower in Iraq, Sgt. Ashley Vorhees, 29, dreamed of seeing her three children and eating crispy chicken tacos at Rosa's Mexican restaurant in Killeen, Texas.  She also looked forward to not having to carry her gun with her to the bathroom.

Vorhees, a combat medic, spent her first tour of Iraq with her husband, also a soldier.

"When Osama bin Laden was captured and killed, my mom was like 'Does that mean that everybody is coming home now?'" Vorhees said.

"We actually had it a lot better than the people did who did the initial invasion," she said.  "We're just thankful that we're not getting attacked every day."

When the war was at its worst in 2006, America had 239,000 men and women in uniform stationed in more than 500 bases sprinkled throughout Iraq.  Another 135,000 contractors were working in Iraq.

The United States will still maintain a presence in Iraq:  hundreds of nonmilitary personnel, including 1,700 diplomats, law enforcement officers, and economic, agricultural and other experts, according to the State Department. In addition, 5,000 security contractors will protect Americans and another 4,500 contractors will serve in other roles.

The quiet U.S. exit, shrouded in secrecy until it occurred, closes a war that was contentious from the start and cost the nation more than $800 billion.

President Barack Obama, who had made a campaign promise to bring home American troops, reflected on a greater cost as Sunday's exit made good on his word.

More than 4,500 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq; more than 30,000 wounded.  In all, 1.5 million Americans served their nation at war.

"All of them -- our troops, veterans, and their families -- will always have the thanks of a grateful nation," Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday.

It's impossible to know with certainty the number of Iraqis who have died in Iraq since 2003.  But the independent public database Iraq Body Count has compiled reports of more than 150,000 between the invasion and October 2010, with four out of five dead being civilians.

And the question of how Iraq will fare in the months ahead, without U.S. troops, is also impossible to answer.

Even before the last soldiers had left, political crisis was erupting in Baghdad.

The powerful political bloc Iraqiya said it was suspending its participation in parliament, which would threaten Iraq's fragile power-sharing arrangement.  Iraqiya accuses Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of amassing power.

But for the last U.S. troops out, the message was clear.

Col. Doug Crissman, their commander, spent the past few weeks speaking to the soldiers in each of his companies.

He told them he was proud of his troops and they should be proud of what they had accomplished.  And, he wanted his soldiers to take care of themselves back home as much as they did in Iraq.

In the months before the brigade deployed in February, it lost 13 soldiers to accidents, some because of driving under the influence of alcohol.  At least one death was a suicide.

"Quite frankly we lost more soldiers in peacetime in the nine or 10 months before this brigade deployed due to accidents and risky behavior . . . than we lost here in combat," Crissman said.  "We want every soldier that survived this combat deployment to survive redeployment and reintegration."

Capt. Mark Askew, 28, said he was worried about the well-being of his soldiers, many of whom have done multiple tours of Iraq and felt the stress and sting of war.

Was the loss, the grief, worth it?

For Askew, it will all depend on how Iraq's future unfolds -- whether democracy and human rights will take root, whether Iraq will be a steadfast U.S. ally.

It will depend, he said, on how Iraq shapes its own destiny.

--CNN's Ingrid Formanek reported from the Iraq-Kuwait border, Jomana Karadsheh from Baghdad and Moni Basu from Atlanta.



By Charlie Savage

New York Times
December 16, 2011

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration turned over the last remaining prisoner in American custody in Iraq to the Iraqi government on Friday, a move expected to unleash a political backlash inside the United States even as the American military draws closer to completing its exit.

The prisoner, Ali Musa Daqduq, from Lebanon, is suspected of being a Hezbollah operative and is accused of helping to orchestrate a raid in January 2007 by Shiite militants who wore American-style uniforms and carried forged identity cards.  They killed five American soldiers in Karbala, Iraq -- one in the raid, and four others who were kidnapped and their bodies later dumped by a road.

On Friday, the military notified the families of the five soldiers that Mr. Daqduq was being transferred to the Iraqi police.  Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, confirmed the transfer.

“We have sought and received assurances that he will be tried,” Mr. Vietor said.  “We’ve worked this at the highest levels of the U.S. and Iraqi government, and we’ll continue to discuss with the Iraqis the best way to ensure that he faces justice.”

The administration had wrestled with the decision on whether to turn Mr. Daqduq over to the custody of the Iraqi government -- as the United States had done with all its other wartime prisoners -- or to take him with the military as it withdraws.  Republicans had called for Mr. Daqduq to be sent to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to face trial on charges of war crimes before a military commission.

The decision was complicated by the need to secure the Iraqi government’s permission to take any prisoners out of the country under the status-of-forces agreement signed by the Bush administration in late 2008.  That accord set December 2011 as the deadline for United States troops to exit.

The Obama administration said that the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had declined to allow the United States to take Mr. Daqduq, saying that under Iraqi law he could not be transferred at this time and had to be placed in Iraqi custody.  President Obama raised the issue again when Mr. Maliki visited the White House this week, an official said.

Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, criticized the administration’s decision.

“I am deeply troubled that the administration has apparently decided to transfer him to Iraqi custody, where he might be released or transferred to Iran -- both unacceptable outcomes,” she said.  “Daqduq could have been detained at Guantánamo, and this decision by the administration is yet more evidence of the need for a coherent detention policy for terrorists.  Iraq’s decisions regarding Daqduq will be a major test of the evolving relationship between our two countries.”

It was not clear whether the United States might still seek to have Mr. Daqduq extradited, or whether it had acquiesced to letting the Iraqi criminal justice system handle his case.  Many previous military detainees transferred to the Iraqi police have either been acquitted or released without charges.

Relatives of the soldiers who were killed in the 2007 raid said they found the decision distressing.  David Lucas, of Cortland, N.Y., the brother of Pfc. Shawn Falter, one of the four men who were kidnapped and killed, said that a woman at Fort Knox had called their mother on Friday and had apologetically read her a statement about the transfer.

Mr. Lucas said he wanted to see Mr. Daqduq prosecuted and held for life in prison or even executed.  Turning Mr. Daqduq over to the Iraqi police is “as good as letting him go free,” Mr. Lucas said.  “It’s just a matter of time before the guy is walking the streets there.  It feels like my brother’s death was in vain.  It doesn’t matter, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  Your opinion does not matter to what they want to do in geopolitics.”

Some conservatives had argued for simply putting Mr. Daqduq on a plane and taking him out of the country without Iraqi permission.  But administration officials said that such a move would have violated Iraqi sovereignty at the moment of the war’s end, and dealt a severe blow to efforts to establish good relations with the new Iraq.

Mr. Vietor said Friday that the administration’s national security team had unanimously agreed that if Iraq had granted permission to take Mr. Daqduq from the country, he would have been tried before a military commission.  That decision apparently hinged in part upon the fact that prime evidence against Mr. Daqduq would probably not be admissible in a civilian court.

The administration had considered holding a military commission at the naval base in Charleston, S.C., but it never considered sending Mr. Daqduq to Guantánamo, officials have said, both because it wants to close the prison rather than adding to its population and because it is so notorious in the Middle East that the Iraqi government would never consent to a transfer there.

“To be blunt, a transfer to Gitmo was a non-starter for the Iraqi government,” Mr. Vietor said.



** What Just Foreign Policy's Iraqi Death Estimator Is and Is Not **

Just Foreign Policy

Since researchers at Johns Hopkins estimated that 601,000 violent Iraqi deaths were attributable to the U.S.-led invasion as of July 2006, it necessarily does not include Iraqis who have been killed since then.  We would like to update this number both to provide a more relevant day-to-day estimate of the Iraqi dead and to emphasize that the human tragedy mounts each day this brutal war continues.

This daily estimate is a rough estimate.  It is not scientific; for that, another study must be conducted.  However, absent such a study, we think this constitutes a best estimate of violent Iraqi deaths that is certainly more reliable than widely cited numbers that, often for political reasons, ignore the findings of scientifically sound demographic studies.

In January 2008, a poll of Iraqis confirmed that the number dead is likely to be over a million.  The prestigious British polling firm, Opinion Research Business, estimated that 1,033,000 Iraqis had been killed violently since the U.S. invasion as of August 2007.


The Lancet study already demonstrated that, as of July 2006, the deaths caused by the U.S. invasion of Iraq rivaled the death toll of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  Our update suggests that it has now surpassed even high estimates of deaths in Rwanda.  (Note that this does not even include Iraqi deaths attributable to the 1991 Gulf War or the sanctions imposed on the population between the two wars.)

Realization of the daunting scale of the death and suffering inflicted on Iraqis should add urgency to efforts to end the occupation and to prevent such “pre-emptive” invasions or “interventions” in the future.  The American people need to rein in their government and create a new kind of foreign policy, one based on cooperation, law, and diplomacy rather than violence and aggression.


Iraq is in a state of extreme upheaval that makes it very difficult to record deaths.  The occupiers and the central government they established do not control much of the country.  The occupying forces have made it clear that they “do not do body counts.”  The Iraqi government releases regular estimates of deaths in the country, but these are unreliable.  In early 2006, the Iraqi Minister of Health publicly estimated between 40,000 and 50,000 violent Iraqi deaths since the invasion.  In October 2006, the same week a study was published in the Lancet estimating 600,000 deaths, the Minister tripled his estimate, saying there had been 150,000 deaths.  Can this be anything but political?

The media in any country only detect a fraction of all violent deaths.  In Iraq, the media is limited to shrinking zones of safe passage.  While press reports of violence in Iraq are important and often heroically obtained, they cannot provide a complete picture of all deaths in that war-torn country.

In a country such as Iraq, where sufficient reporting mechanisms do not exist, there is a scientifically accepted way to measure demographics including death rate:  a cluster survey.  Cluster surveys provide reliable demographic information the wake of natural disasters, wars, and famines.  Cluster surveys give us the data about deaths in Darfur, accepted for example by the U.S. government as one basis for its charge of genocide.  They are used by U.N. agencies charged with disaster and famine relief.

In Iraq, there have been two scientifically rigorous cluster surveys conducted since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.  The first, published in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, estimated that 100,000 excess Iraqi deaths had resulted from the invasion as of September 2004.  The second survey, also published in The Lancet, updated that estimate through July 2006.  Due to an escalating mortality rate, the researchers estimated that over 650,000 Iraqis had died who would not have died had the death rate remained at pre-invasion levels.  Roughly 601,000 of those excess deaths were due to violence.

As with all statistical methods, the Lancet surveys come with a margin of error, as do opinion polls, for example. In the second survey, the researchers were 95 percent certain that there were between 426,000 and 794,000 excess violent deaths from March 2003 to July 2006.  601,000 is the most likely number of excess violent deaths.  It is this number that our Estimator updates.

As of January 2008, a poll from the British polling firm Opinion Research Business contributed to our understanding of the Iraqi death toll, confirming the likelihood that over a million have died with an estimate of 1.2 million deaths.


For the Iraqi Death Estimator, Just Foreign Policy accepts the Lancet estimate of 601,000 violent Iraqi deaths attributable to the U.S. invasion and occupation as of July 2006.

To update this number, we need to obtain a rate of how quickly deaths are mounting in Iraq.  For this purpose, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) provides the most reliable, frequently updated database of deaths in Iraq.  (The IBC also usefully provides a database of all violent Iraqi deaths demonstrable through press reports and thus relatively undeniable.)  The IBC provides a maximum and minimum.  We opted to use the midpoint between the two for our calculation.

We multiple the Lancet number as of July 2006 by the ratio of current IBC deaths divided by IBC deaths as of July 1, 2006 (43,394).

The formula used is:

Just Foreign Policy estimate = (Lancet estimate as of July 2006) * ( (Current IBC Deaths) / (IBC Deaths as of July 1, 2006) )


The Iraq Body Count (IBC) records all violent Iraqi civilian deaths recorded in at least two press reports.  Our Estimator assumes that the IBC’s method, while it does not capture all Iraqi deaths as shown by the Lancet studies, captures roughly the same percentage of deaths over time.  This means, for example, that if the violent death rate in Iraq doubled over a given period, IBC would count approximately twice the number of deaths per day over that period than it did previously.  If the death rate fell by half, IBC would count roughly half the number of deaths per day.

It is worth noting that, to the extent that the English-language media covers less of the violence in Iraq over time -- if they are progressively less capable of receiving accurate reports from outside the Green Zone or certain sectors of Baghdad, for example -- then to that extent, the violent death rate derived from IBC will be lower than the actual death rate that would be picked up by a scientific, statistical survey.  This would tend to make the Just Foreign Policy Estimate lower.

This actually seems to have been the case from 2004 to 2006.  In September 2004, the scientific estimate from the Lancet was about 9 times the IBC death estimate.  By July 2006, the Lancet estimate was about 12 times the IBC death estimate, suggesting that IBC was picking up a smaller percentage of total deaths.

This combination of the IBC and the Lancet is not perfect, although we think it the best way of obtaining a rough estimate using existing tallies while awaiting another scientifically-based number.  For example, the IBC, unlike the Lancet and the Just Foreign Policy Estimator,  seeks to exclude “combatant” deaths from their tally.  This could lead to differences between the IBC rate of increase and the actual rate of increase in overall Iraqi deaths, but it is not clear in which direction this difference goes.

Since our interest is simply in providing a rough estimate -- rather than a scientifically accurate estimate -- of current Iraqi deaths, we can accept the possible inaccuracies produced by combining the Lancet and IBC.