Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Now It Will Count

An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Syrians have died in violence over the last year. This is a rare event in that violence:

Rebels fought government forces in Damascus on Monday, in the most violent gun battles the Syrian capital has seen since the start of the year-long revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, opposition activists said.

During the Iraq War, casualties from 2003 to 2008 (when I judge the war was essentially won)were about 120,000, or 20,000 per year. That average is high due to the worst years of 2006 and 2007 when Syria and Iran made a major effort to ignite a full-flown civil war. In the first two years of the war, fewer than 12,000 civilians died each year. Since 2009, Iraq's casualties have been half the rate against the much weakened enemies. And I'm not sure how much of that is now criminal activity opposed to warfare. For the victims that is irrelevant, of course. But it is obviously a real distinction to make.

So the scale of civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq isn't that different for the first year of the fight. Although don't ever forget that the civilian deaths in Syria are caused by Syrian security forces while in Iraq it was the insurgents/terrorist side inflicting the casualties. Even figures for casualties "directly" caused by Coalition forces--small as they were--neglect to mention that the responsibility would largely lie with the insurgents who fought dressed as civilians. We are allowed to shoot at enemies even when they hide among civilians. That is not a violation of international law while hiding among civilians is.

But in Iraq, the bulk of the killings took place in and around Baghdad where the press could see the carnage and hear the explosions. I have to believe that the fact that most of the violence in Syria takes place away from the capital diminishes the impression of violence through the few reporters allowed in Syria.

But if the rebels manage to make Damascus a battleground, expect the images of civil war to become more real to the reporters who cover the fight and viewers who follow the reports. Yes, getting videos out matters. But the reporters and their editors set the tone of coverage, so affecting them is important.

UPDATE: Strategypage notes casualties in Iraq:

The Iraqi government recently announced that, by its count, 69,263 Iraqis were killed and 239,133 wounded in terrorist actions between April 2004 and the end of 2011. The bloodiest year was 2006, which accounted for 30 percent of all the deaths. About a third of all deaths occurred in Baghdad. The Iraqi figures were compiled by the Health Ministry and the National Security Council.

Perhaps add 15,000 for the period before Iraq's count. So that is 84,000. We figure 100,000 Iraqi "civilians" died--apparently a third were enemy fighters (who obviously dressed as civilians). So our estimate would be 67,000 civilians dead. Which is bad enough. But it is nowhere near the reports greeted eagerly by the Global Left that a million died. Or 600,000. Or some other ridiculous number. Coalition and Iraqi security losses add in about another 11,000.

The civilian death toll in Syria could be very similar to the Iraq toll. Especially compared to the early years of Iraq before the Samarra bombing in February 2006 that signalled the escalation of sectarian killing.

Note also that a third of the deaths were in Baghdad. Add in the Baghdad belt around the city and I imagine the number jumps up quite a bit.

As Strategypage says:

There was a tendency to exaggerate losses, as most data was released for media impact. The real numbers, as is often the case, are lower and less newsworthy.

Of course, the death rate in Syria is not going to be clear since the tendency to exaggerate losses is surely present here, too.