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May 30, 2006

How Many Hadithas?

Given the news about the massacre in Haditha last November, now's the time to remember Seymour Hersh's story from October, 2004:

HERSH: I got a call last week from a soldier -- it's different now, a lot of communication, 800 numbers. He's an American officer and he was in a unit halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border. It's a place where we claim we've done great work at cleaning out the insurgency. He was a platoon commander. First lieutenant, ROTC guy.

It was a call about this. He had been bivouacing outside of town with his platoon. It was near, it was an agricultural area, and there was a granary around. And the guys that owned the granary, the Iraqis that owned the granary... It was an area that the insurgency had some control, but it was very quiet, it was not Fallujah. It was a town that was off the mainstream. Not much violence there. And his guys, the guys that owned the granary, had hired, my guess is from his language, I wasn't explicit -- we're talking not more than three dozen, thirty or so guards. Any kind of work people were dying to do. So Iraqis were guarding the granary. His troops were bivouaced, they were stationed there, they got to know everybody...

They were a couple weeks together, they knew each other. So orders came down from the generals in Baghdad, we want to clear the village, like in Samarra. And as he told the story, another platoon from his company came and executed all the guards, as his people were screaming, stop. And he said they just shot them one by one. He went nuts, and his soldiers went nuts. And he's hysterical. He's totally hysterical. And he went to the captain. He was a lieutenant, he went to the company captain. And the company captain said, "No, you don't understand. That's a kill. We got thirty-six insurgents."

Now's also the time to remember the dismissive reaction to this from U.S. conservatives. Here's Max Boot writing in the Los Angeles Times: his lectures [Hersh] has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

And here's the Weekly Standard's happy chortling:

...maybe you're an aging lefty icon who got famous reporting the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. And so maybe you're still milking your notoriety for everything it's worth. And maybe you're always imagining another scoop like My Lai, because you're afraid that on some level you've become just another old gasbag on the lecture circuit.

Of course, we still don't know the truth behind Hersh's story. But if accurate, it does more than indicate the recent Haditha massacre wasn't an isolated incident. It suggests it may be fairly common.

Why? Note again the location Hersh gives for the alleged fall, 2004 massacre:

...he was in a unit halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border.

Now, note the location of Haditha, site of the confirmed November, 2005 massacre:

Posted at May 30, 2006 08:09 PM | TrackBack

In other words, Haditha is isolated, in the middle of the desert, where bad news can be shut down more readily-- an assumption that may unconsciously guide behavior.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at May 30, 2006 08:34 PM

I didn't know about that Hersh story. How thickly horrifying. I wonder where that friendly platoon ended up.

Posted by: Saheli at May 30, 2006 10:10 PM

Err, pardon, but didn't that aging gasbag break the Abu Ghraib story? WTF? What the hell has Jackoff McTaffy from the Weekly Standard ever done that he can call Seymour Hersh an aging gasbag?

Posted by: saurabh at May 30, 2006 10:37 PM

I've been googling around looking for stories about the number of Iraqi insurgents killed. The best source for estimates seems to be the Brookings Institute. There was a story last fall that I found which quoted Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings, who estimated that there were about 1500-2000 violent deaths in Iraq each month, about half of them Iraqi insurgents. I downloaded the frequently updated Brookings numbers on Iraq a few weeks ago and it contained a chart showing the number of insurgents killed or captured month by month and the average was a little under 2000--the total as of May 2006 was over 60,000. What was also interesting is that there was a factor of four increase from October 2003 to November 2003. A footnote explained that the increase probably wasn't real--we just had better data beginning around then. A story I found at the LA Times (I'm too lazy to go look for the web address) a month or two later said that the US military had started releasing figures on the number it was killing. In other words, the press is totally dependent on the US military to tell it how many people it is killing.

Now in comparison, when you look at Iraq Body Count's statistics on the number of civilians reported killed by coalition forces, in most months the number is in the dozens. (That's based on their two year study which came out last summer. There are exceptions--notably in the opening months of the invasion, when they say we killed about 7000 civilians, and also in April and November 2004 when Fallujah was attacked and IBC recorded close to 2000 civilian deaths.)

I don't think the US is able in most months to kill around 1000 insurgents and only kill a few dozen civilians in the process. The Israelis seem to kill more unarmed people than armed guerillas in trying to suppress the intifada. So my guess is that the standard operating procedure is to count any Iraqi killed by the US as an insurgent. And probably in most cases the press isn't able to follow up.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at May 31, 2006 06:52 AM

Here's one of the articles I was citing--

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Civilian deaths could total 30,000 or higher

By Jim Krane
The Associated Press

Military spokesman says media attention on 2,000 misguided

The fallen: a statistical portrait
The number of Iraqis who have died violently since the U.S.-led invasion is many times larger than the U.S. military death toll of 2,000 in Iraq. In one sign of the enormity of the Iraqi loss, at least 3,870 civilians were killed in the past six months alone, according to an Associated Press count.
One U.S. military spokesman said it is possible the figure for the entire war could be 30,000 Iraqis, which many experts see as a credible estimate. Others suspect the number is far higher, since the chaos in Iraq leaves the potential for many killings to go unreported.
"We may never know the true number of the Iraqi public that has been killed or injured in this war," said the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Steve Boylan.
Civilians made up more than two-thirds of the Iraqis killed in war-related violence since the country's first elected government took power on April 28, according to the AP count. The rest were Iraqi security personnel.
Boylan said the U.S. military keeps its own tally of Iraqi dead but does not release it.
But he suggested that an estimate from Iraq Body Count, a British anti-war group that has compiled a death toll based on media reports, appeared credible. The group estimated that from 26,690 to 30,051 Iraqi civilians were killed, or roughly 1,000 per month in the 30 months since the war began.
Some outside experts call that number about right.
Iraq Body Count:
Brookings Institution Iraq Index:
Multi-National Force, Iraq:
Judith Yaphe, a former CIA Iraq analyst and a senior fellow at National Defense University, said she accepts estimates of 20,000 to 30,000 killed.
Iraq Body Count's figures include Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. forces as well as by insurgents and militia. They also include homicides stemming from the breakdown in law and order.
The AP's count is based on reports from police, hospitals, government officials and eyewitnesses. The death toll includes Iraqi police and military — but not insurgents, victims of ordinary homicides or the nearly 1,000 Shiite pilgrims killed Aug. 21 in a bridge stampede after someone shouted that a suicide bomber was in the crowd.
There is no way of knowing how many deaths go uncounted.
Estimates from other experts who measure overall Iraqi deaths, including insurgents and Iraqi troops, range higher than 30,000.
Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution who has closely followed the war's casualties, said an average of 1,500 to 2,000 Iraqis have been killed per month, about half of them insurgents. Exacerbating the carnage is the Iraqi crime rate, now the highest in the Middle East, with about 10,000 homicides a year that would not have happened without the invasion, he said.
The total of Iraqi deaths — including insurgents — from all manner of war-related violence could run as high as 70,000, said O'Hanlon, who teaches a course at Columbia University on estimating war casualties.
As high as it is, the Iraqi death rate so far is much lower than that of the Vietnamese during the 1954-1976 Vietnam War, when about 1.1 million Vietnamese fighters and some 2 million civilians were killed — a rough average of 12,000 per month.
The Pentagon made it clear from the start of the Iraq invasion that it would not be counting Iraqi bodies.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at May 31, 2006 07:00 AM

Some money questions that should be pursued: How much money has been paid to Iraqi's for wrongful deaths? What is the budget for this? How was $1500/death chosen?

Posted by: Jon Harman at May 31, 2006 09:57 AM

JS -- While the individual actions of these troops are a horror, let's keep in mind that none of this would have ever happened if Bush had not lied to America, Congress and the UN to let him illegally invade a country that was no threat to anyone.

Posted by: Colin Whitworth at May 31, 2006 10:56 AM

Marine's Hymm 2006 version

1. delete "and to keep our honor clean"

2. modify verse:

"If the Army and the Navy
Ever looked on Heaven's scenes
They would find dead angels murdered by
United States Marines."

Posted by: Bob B at May 31, 2006 12:06 PM

I don't remember hearing about this in October of 2004. I tend to keep up with what Hersh has to say too. Strange.

Has it ever been confirmed?

Posted by: Scott at May 31, 2006 12:13 PM

To paraphrase Stanley Kubrick:
Those who run are Iraqi insurgents. Those who don't run are well diciplined Iraqi insurgents.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 31, 2006 08:03 PM

It is difficult not to notice the words "A Nonpartisan Resource for Information and Analysis" at the top of Max Boot's column as if these think tanks are not partisan. And Hersh is framed as some kind of ex-hippie conspiracy nut. This kind of story framing is typical of these kinds of think tanks.

At I found this link about "reported" deaths of civilians in Iraq.

They report that the number of Iraq civilian deaths are anywhere from 38,059 to 42,434. Keep in mind these are estimates and only of those deaths that were reported in the media somewhere. It is quite likely that the true total is far greater due to unreported deaths. The site also states that in the third year the death rates are much higher than in the first two years.

My own father who was a marine fought in the Philippines in WWII and he told me how he saw a group of Marines came to a Japanese prisoner of war compound being guarded by the army. They told the army guard to move aside or else and then went in and shot all the Japanese prisoners. Anyone who thinks this kind of thing does not go on all the time in wars is just naive. It happens in all wars and I agree with Jonathon 100 percent that a lot more goes on than ever gets reported just like the number of civilian deaths.

Posted by: rob payne at June 1, 2006 01:02 AM

Correction; I meant found at

Posted by: rob payne at June 1, 2006 02:30 AM


I'm surprised too you didn't hear about this. It was big news inside my head. If you missed it, it goes to show the progressive echo-chamber is significantly weaker than I was hoping.


Thanks for doing that. I'm not familiar with how Daily Kos works -- is filmgeek83's email posted anywhere? I'd like to try to get in touch with him directly.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 1, 2006 02:55 PM

Jon, if you click on the name of a DK poster, it takes you to their info page. Some have emails and/or websites displayed there, others not. Filmgeek's has both. Hope he can shed some light on the Hersh report.

Posted by: Nell at June 1, 2006 05:57 PM

See also this BBC article about video of deliberate shootings of 11 civilians in Ishaqi in 2006:



Posted by: Ben Bennett at June 1, 2006 09:05 PM