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Iraqi Holocaust

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Iraqi Holocaust

by Gideon Polya


June 02, 2004

Whether a person dies violently or in bed, any death that is avoidable requires public assessment of causality, culpability and complicity in order to make the world a safer place. Of course, whether a person dies violently or dies from avoidable disease or deprivation, the end result is the same.

I have been researching and writing a careful analysis of global mortality. My scientific analysis involves summarising mortality and its causes for all parts of the world throughout history. The ultimate aim of this analysis is to address the avoidable human mortality that accounts for the approximately 20 million people who die each year from deprivation and malnourishment-related causes. My analysis is powerfully illustrated by the situation in Iraq. The UK has been militarily involved in Iraq on and off for 90 years and the largely Anglo-American Coalition has been combating Iraqis since 1991.

Whatever our positions on Iraq, we are morally obliged to assess the actual human cost of our involvement there. One powerful approach is to estimate “excess mortality”, which is the difference between the actual deaths observed in a country and the mortality expected for a properly run, peaceful society with the same demographics.

The total excess mortality in Iraq, calculated using United Nations data, is 5.2 million since 1950 and 1.5 million for the period 1991–2004. The huge excess mortality in Iraq since 1950 is similar in magnitude to that of the Jewish Holocaust (six million victims) and the “forgotten” manmade World War II Bengal Famine (four million Muslim and Hindu victims).

My estimates of excess mortality for Iraq are consistent with the under-5 infant mortality in Iraq, estimated from UNICEF data to be 3.3 million since 1950 and 1.2 million in the period 1991–2004.

Excess mortality and infant mortality have declined dramatically for nearly all developing countries outside Africa over the past 50 years. In Iraq, excess mortality and infant mortality reached a minimum in the 1980s. However, this decline reversed after the 1991 Gulf War. According to UNICEF, in 2001 the under-5 infant mortality was 109,000 in Iraq, which has a population of about 24 million, compared with about 1000 in Australia, which has a population of about 20 million.

Rulers are responsible for the ruled. Accordingly the occupying Coalition, including Australia, is clearly responsible for the continuing excess mortality and infant mortality in Iraq. Both are estimated to be currently of the order of 100,000 per year, or about 300 per day.

John Valder, a former president of the Liberal Party, has recently called for war crimes trials of the leaders of the Coalition, adducing the illegality of the invasion of Iraq (The Age, 9 April 2004). Mass mortality in a conquered population also constitutes a war crime, as well as a humanitarian tragedy. The actual Iraqi death toll is not being reported and publicly discussed. Ignoring mass human mortality in Iraq amounts to holocaust denial.

Dr Gideon Polya recently retired as a senior biochemist at La Trobe University. He is the author of the pharmacological reference Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds.

conScience is a column for Australians to express forthright views on national issues. Views expressed are those of the author.

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