Iraq Civilian Deaths in Comparative Perspective

Civilian deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Bosnia, and other wars

Source: The New York Times

via TechnoChitlins via Ann Althouse. The latter observes,

The contrasting numbers for the Iraq War and the politically motivated killings under Saddam Hussein, whom the war ousted from power, are very stark. The contrasting numbers for the ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Afghanistan civil war are much more extreme. There are numbers too for the conflicts where the United States has not intervened — Rwanda, Darfur. We can only speculate what the total number would have been if there were two bars on the graph for each of those conflicts, one for the civil war and one for the intervention. By the same token, we cannot know what the length of the bar for Iraq and Afghanistan would be if there had been no intervention and therefore no second bar splitting up the total number.

Fair points. I opposed intervention in Rwanda and would have in Darfur had it been seriously contemplated. It’s almost certainly true, though, that our intervention would have saved a lot of lives.

How many lives would have been lost in Iraq under Saddam absent our intervention is, obviously, unknowable. It was, of course, more difficult to lay the blame for his murder sprees on the United States than it is to blame us for the deaths post-invasion, even though a significant number of them are terrorists/insurgents (a good thing) or innocents killed by terrorists/insurgents (a bad thing but hardly our fault).

This all does reinforce the point that I’ve made repeatedly, though: The losses in this war are small by historic standards. This is even true for recent “small wars,” it seems.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. menj says:

    Oh, I see. So some civillians killed, is better than no civillians killed, in a pointless war for oil?

    – MENJ

  2. LJD says:

    Pointless war for oil- was that Rwanda, or Nicaragua?

  3. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘in a pointless war for oil?’

    Though I’m sure this won’t penetrate the cement around your head the only people that this was a war for oil for were the Russians, French and Germans and UN officials getting paid off by Saddam.

  4. Barry says:

    Right, ICallMasICM – it couldn’t be the case that Cheney & Co wanted Iraqi oil.

  5. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘it couldn’t be the case that Cheney & Co wanted Iraqi oil.’

    Other than your own paranoid delusions what evidence do you have of this?