Editor’s Note: From the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the Bush administration refused to provide figures on the number of Iraqis killed, yet disputed estimates of war-related deaths that ranged up to one million.

Now, in a surprise development, the Pentagon has posted, without any fanfare, its totals for most of the war, numbers well below other tallies, eas Rory O’Connor notes in this guest essay:

As the Associated Press reported, the information went unnoticed for months after being “quietly posted on the Web site of the United States Central Command without explanation.”

It was only recently discovered by the AP “during a routine check…for civilian and military casualty numbers,” which the news agency had first requested in 2005 through the Freedom of Information Act.

As AP noted, “The military has repeatedly resisted sharing its numbers, which it uses to determine security trends.”

(One exception: U.S. military officials in Baghdad released their July 2010 Iraqi casualty tally in order to refute the Iraqi government's much higher monthly figures, a decision made just weeks before U.S. forces withdrew all but 50,000 troops from Iraq.)

According to the AP, “a spokesman at Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., could not answer basic questions about the information.”

Iraqi Health Ministry officials were equally reticent and refused to discuss the American figures, which fall thousands of deaths short of those the Iraqis have compiled using actual death certificates.

The American data claimed 76,939 Iraqi security service members and civilians killed and 121,649 wounded between January 2004 and August 2008. (The count shows that 3,952 American and other international troops were killed over the same period.)

The Iraqi Human Rights Ministry reported last October that 85,694 people were killed from the beginning of 2004 to Oct. 31, 2008, and 147,195 wounded. (Notably, these tallies do not include the period of the U.S. invasion and conquest of Iraq in March and April 2003.)

Certainly estimating casualties in Iraq has been an inexact process, and various figures have long been disputed as attempts to manipulate the political debate either by minimizing or exaggerating the numbers to sway public opinion.

The mysteriously-derived U.S. military figures rank as the lowest. One tally by a private, British-based group that has tracked civilian casualties since the war began estimates that between 98,252 and 107,235 Iraqi civilians were killed from March 2003 to Sept. 19, 2010. Other estimates of war-related deaths have been much higher, up to and even over one million.

Curious as ever about the meaning of events at the nexus of media and politics, let me ask a few questions:

1. Why was the U.S. military’s most extensive death tally ever of the Iraq war released without comment or explanation and buried on a Web site for months?

2. Why can no one in the U.S. military answer “basic questions” about the tally months after it was made, such as how it was compiled, why it was released, and whether the new numbers included suspected insurgents?

3. Why has the U.S. military repeatedly resisted requests to share its comprehensive figures on Iraqi civilian casualties?

4. Why was the U.S. death figure well below that of the Iraqi government?

5. Finally, whatever else you may think about the so-called “lamestream media,” would we ever have even known about the Pentagon’s largest release of raw data on deaths during the Iraq war without the Associated Press requesting casualty numbers through the Freedom of Information Act – and then “routinely” checking for them?

Rory O’Connor is a journalist and filmmaker, and co-founder of the media firm Globalvision. He is author of Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio. [This story appeared at http://www.roryoconnor.org/]

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