The carnage in Iraq continues, but what did anyone expect? Roadside bombs (IEDs) take their deadly almost daily toll on U.S. troops in and around Baghdad (and adjoining provinces). Seventy-five Americans have already died in March, at least 50 of them from roadside bombs. Of course, that’s a drop in the bucket, when it comes to Iraqi casualties. The now widely discussed Lancet study of Iraqi “excess deaths” between the invasion of March 2003 and June 2006 offered an estimated figure of 655,000. Its careful, door-to-door methodology was vehemently rejected by both George Bush (not “a credible report”) and Tony Blair. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, however, recently obtained British government docum! ents indicate that the study’s methodology was indeed sound. (“[T]he chief scientific adviser to the Defense Ministry, Roy Anderson, described the methods used in the study as ‘robust’ and ‘close to best practice’… In another document, a government official — whose name has been blanked out — said ‘the survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones.'”)
None of this is likely to fully penetrate the mainstream in the U.S. During the week of the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, both NBC and ABC in their prime-time news shows typically continued to cite the figure of 60,000 for Iraqi deaths — despite the fact that the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq calculated 34,452 Iraqi deaths for 2006 alone and this is known to be an honest undercount, because some bodies never make it to morgues or hospitals and, in the embattled no-go zones of the Sunni insurgency, official reporting of deaths is weak at best.
With the President’s surge plan well underway and “encouraging signs” of progress in Baghdad already being hailed — how long can we be encouraged on the road to hell? — Iraq is ever more a charnel house, a killing ground. The latest real surge, as Mike Davis tells us below, is in car and truck bombs driven by Sunni jihadis. Last April, Davis did a unique two-part series for this site, “The Poor Man’s Air Force” and “Car Bombs with Wings,” which surely represented the first history of the car bomb ever attempted. The remarkable author of Planet of Slums has now turned those two pieces into a full-scale, history of this devastating weapon of our time in a new book, Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb. Since, on this roiling planet, the car bomb may lie in all our futures, this is simply a book not to miss. I recommend it most highly. Tom
Have the Car-bombers Already Defeated the Surge?
The Weapon No One Can Stop
By Mike Davis
Despite heroic reassurances from both the White House and the Pentagon that the six-week-old U.S. escalation in Baghdad and al-Anbar Province is proceeding on course, suicide car-bombers continue to devastate Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods, often under the noses of reinforced American patrols and checkpoints. Indeed, February was a record month for car bombings, with at least 44 deadly explosions in Baghdad alone, and March promises to duplicate the carnage.
Car bombs, moreover, continue to evolve in horror and lethality. In January and March, the first chemical “dirty bomb” explosions took place using chlorine gas, giving potential new meaning to the President’s missing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The sectarian guerrillas who claim affiliation with “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” are now striking savagely, and seemingly at will, against dissident Sunni tribes in al-Anbar province as well as Shiite areas of Baghdad and Shiite pilgrims on the highways to the south of the capital. With each massacre, the bombers refute Bush administration claims that the U.S. military can “take back and secure” Baghdad block-by-block or establish its own patrols and new, fortified mini-bases as a realistic substitute for local self-defense militias.
On February 23rd, for instance, shortly after the beginning of the “Surge,” a suicide truck-bomber killed 36 Sunnis in Habbaniya, west of Baghdad, after an imam at a local mosque had denounced al-Qaeda. Ten days later, a kamikaze driver ploughed his truck bomb into Baghdad’s famed literary bazaar, the crowded corridor of bookstores and coffee houses along Mutanabi Street, incinerating at least 30 people and, perhaps, the last hopes of an Iraqi intellectual renaissance.
Click here to read more of this dispatch.