Naked City

The Beat Goes On

The still-fugitive Osama bin Laden, some time ago, may have uttered the simplest explanation of last week's bomb attacks on London: "If you bomb our cities," bin Laden declared in a recent videotape, "we will bomb yours." He was quoted by British journalist Robert Fisk, who went on to note, "It is easy for Blair to call [the] bombings 'barbaric' – they were – but what were the civilian deaths of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the children torn apart by cluster bombs, the innocent Iraqis gunned down at American military checkpoints? When they die, it is 'collateral damage'; when 'we' die it is 'barbaric terrorism.'"

Under the rubric of "barbaric terrorism," more than 50 people were killed, more than 700 injured, in the July 7 London attacks. Under the heading of "collateral damage," it depends very much on when one starts counting, but according to the meticulous research of the Iraq Body Count project, the situation hasn't been getting any better for Iraqi civilians. "Far from abating," reports www.iraqbodycount.net, "the monthly death rate in 2005 continues to rise, and the number of media-reported incidents involving the deaths of civilians and captives in the three months [leading up] to March 2005 (376) is more than double the number for the same months a year ago (140).

"Particularly disturbing is that the death rate has increased since the January 31 elections. The reported death toll for February 2005 was 606. This is a significantly higher total than for January, which claimed 447 lives. These figures decisively rebut the claim that elections would lessen the intensity of the insurgency – an insurgency whose stated aim of U.S. military withdrawal was not on the election agenda."

The IBC estimates are quite conservative, tallying only civilian deaths documented in some verifiable way, and yet their overall estimate of civilian deaths for the now more than two years of war is about 25,000 (they don't try to address the many thousands of civilian casualties in the preceding decade of economic sanctions and siege war by U.S. and British air forces). That's not 50 Londoners or even 3,000 New Yorkers, but a considerable number of our fellow human beings, nonetheless. President Bush was quick to recite his inevitable lesson, but one that might be lost on his friend, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, not to mention the people of London. "We're fighting the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan and across the world," Bush declared, "so we do not have to face them here at home." Finally, although Bush and Blair both made obligatory declarations of their determination to "stay the course" in Iraq, those assurances are undermined by amplifying buzz that the military planners are getting ready to wash their hands. Following reports that U.S. and British commanders in Iraq have begun to discuss withdrawal options, a memo written by British defence secretary John Reid – leaked to the London Daily Mail last week – said that Britain is considering cutting its forces in Iraq in half by the end of the year, and that the U.S. has a similar goal. According to a July 11 report in the Washington Post, "The paper, which is marked 'Secret – UK Eyes Only,' said 'emerging U.S. plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006,' allowing a reduction in overall U.S.-led forces in Iraq to 66,000 troops. The troop level is now at about 160,000, including 138,000 American troops. …"

Asked about the memo, British and U.S. officials said it referred only to "contingency" plans always under consideration, and that no decisions have been made about troop withdrawals. Said Pentagon spokesman Joe Carpenter, "At any given time, there are a number of plans, for all sorts of developments, good or bad."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Osama bin Laden, Robert Fisk, London bombings, Iraq War, Iraq Body Count, President George W. Bush, Tony Blair

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