Depending on who provides the figures, the number varies from 150,000 to 1,500,000.
The two most respected studies also vary greatly in their estimates:
The Opinion Research Business organization estimated that there have been 1,033,000 violent deaths due to the war in Iraq, from 2003 to 2008.
Amy Hagopian of the University of Washington published a study in the journal PLoS Medicine on 15 October this year, asserting that the death toll, since the outbreak of war until June 2008, was 460,800.
Professor Raymond Baker states well: “there is something blinding in such large scale and horrible destruction. It is simply too painful to discuss about methods to calculate the number of innocents killed brutally, when the figures almost immediately lead us to well over hundreds and hundreds of thousands of human beings.”
But leaving aside the fact of the huge difference between the two studies, and basing ourselves on the latter, we still have something to add.
According to the report, of the total of half a million deaths in the Iraq war, 60% are directly attributable to violence and the rest are caused due to the collapse of infrastructure and other problems associated with the war, such as the breakdown of health facilities, loss of means of transport and communication.
Most deaths were due directly to violence, particularly shootings, car bombs and explosions. Cardiovascular diseases were the main cause of almost half of the non-violent deaths. These non-violent deaths were caused by the shifting of focus in the health system that is intent on addressing the crisis (thus losing its ability to treat diseases), disruption of the networks for essential supplies, and the collapse of infrastructure that protects the drinking water, food, transport, waste management, and energy. The war also contributes to a climate of fear, humiliation, and disruption of livelihoods, all conditions that undermine health.
As you can see, the report is comprehensive and covers the various elements that produce casualties in the war.
But it does not include all the elements; some have been left out, because they go beyond the scope of the report. But these are realities that one sees in situ.
I will refer only to one of them; namely, the reality of the silent victims, people who die without being taken into account, who are not even counted in the statistics. And within this group, I will now mention only the elderly.
It is true that the study talks about the elderly. But it does not do so sufficiently. Because it is normal to consider that old people die, and that their time has come. But there are thousands of men and women, who weakened by their advanced years, have died and continue to die, because the effects of war continue.
The environmental degradation that has occurred in this conflict is quite known, at least in part. Before the war, Iraq had almost 75% desert territory. This number has increased significantly because of the passage of the tanks, the tons of bombs and missiles that were used, the pollution of rivers, the use of depleted uranium, etc. Sandstorms have multiplied and even the average temperature has risen during the summer and has fallen during the winter so as to accentuate the desert climate. Last summer in our town, there were three weeks with a maximum temperature exceeding 130ºF. And in an earlier year it was over 140ºF.
And during those summers the electricity supply to most homes of Baghdad lasted for an average of one hour per day! And this is because the country has not recovered from the ravages of war. The damage to infrastructure has been immense.
And so, each year many elderly people die because they cannot withstand these temperatures.
These are also victims of the madness of modern warfare. But they are silent victims whom nobody thinks about. It is the euthanasia of the war.
And how much the society loses because of the loss of the elderly!
As Pope Francis teaches “How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the family. The Aparecida Document says, “Children and the elderly build the future of peoples: children because they lead history forward, the elderly because they transmit the experience and wisdom of their lives” (No. 447). This relationship and this dialogue between generations is a treasure to be preserved and strengthened!” (Angelus, July 26, 2013).
And it is a treasure that is being lost in this country, and so the reconstruction is even more difficult. Let us pray for the elderly and for those who stand to lose because of the demise of the elderly!
Fr. Luis Montes, IVE