How many Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S. invasion? 

Don't Panic ... your war questions answered

Good news and bad news.

The good news: More than two weeks since it happened, Republican leaders and the mainstream news media are still talking about Surgin' Gen. David Petraeus' testimony to Congress discussing progress in the Iraq war.

The bad news: They're not actually talking about the report or Iraq.

Instead, they're talking about an obnoxious political advertisement placed in the New York Times by the 18-person liberal political advocacy group MoveOn.org.

The ad shocked the consciences of Republicans and their media sympathizers by referring to Gen. Petraeus as "General Betray Us."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called the ad "despicable" and sponsored an amendment condemning it. It passed with bipartisan support. President Bush called the ad "disgusting" during a press conference announcing his opposition to funding health care for kids.

Why are the war's supporters spending so much of their time and effort talking about a stupid ad?

Just speculation, but it might have something to do with the fact that despite his apparent skill as a battlefield commander, Gen. Petraeus is not the savior President Bush and other war supporters make him out to be.

Iraq problems are beyond the powers of American generals. The Iraq war is lost.

Every minute spent battling MoveOn.org's ad designers is a minute spent not discussing the war's failure, or the gaping holes in Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker's "progress" reports.

By the way, what rhymes with Crocker?

Anyway, one of the gaping holes of which I speak is the number of dead in Iraq.

The Petraeus report touts the decline in violence in Iraq from the peaks of the last 12 months, but it fails to give an accounting of the death and maiming caused by the bungled U.S. invasion and occupation. To Petraeus and the Bush administration, a reduction in the rate of violence is news, but an overall tally of the violence is not.

According to Iraq Body Count, an independent organization that tallies media reports of death in Iraq, between 73,498 and 80,116 Iraqi civilians have died violent deaths since the March 2003 U.S. invasion.

The nearly 7,000-person range in IBC's numbers is an attempt to take into account conflicting media reports that often appear about the same incident. If a report about a car bombing says 15 died and another report about the same bombing says 20 people died, IBC adds the 15 to its low estimate and 20 to its high estimate.

IBC only counts deaths reported in the media, which almost by definition makes it a low count. Iraq is chaotic and reporters can't be everywhere, nor can they rely on Iraq's nonfunctioning government to give an accurate death count.

Two independent groups from outside Iraq have commissioned studies attempting to determine more accurately how many Iraqis have died since Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched.

One year ago, researchers from Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University and Baghdad's Al Mustansiriya University used a statistical technique called "cluster sampling" to tally the war dead. It estimated 650,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the war.

Statisticians, scientists and, according to the BBC, the British military's top scientist, praised the report's methodology. That didn't stop the Bush administration and allies from trashing the report as inaccurate and smearing authors as anti-war zealots bent on exaggerating the war's death toll. For some reason, Sen. Cornyn of Texas has not yet felt the need to condemn anyone for questioning the integrity of the brave people who went door-to-door in a war zone just to write a report.

The report and smearing were not well covered by the press. Perhaps because nothing rhymes with Johns Hopkins.

Two weeks ago, while Petraeus and Crocker were in D.C., the British polling agency ORB released an even more horrifying report about the number of Iraqi dead since the war.

According to ORB, 1,220,580 have died since the invasion. Half of all households in Baghdad alone have lost a family member.

Nothing rhymes with "1.2 million dead Iraqis," so this wasn't widely reported, either.

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