December 05, 2003


As Foghorn Leghorn almost used to say, "You can argue with me, but you can’t argue with Bill Whittle’s figures."

During the 30-odd years he was in power, Saddam Hussein murdered at least 300,000 of his own people. These are the ones we are finding in mass graves in Iraq. Another 300,000 – at least – were killed in his war with Iran and his two conflicts with the US. Those are bare-bones, undeniable, non-speculative, minimums.

That darling arithmetic works out to no less than 20,000 people a year killed by that lunatic, or about 1,700 people a month.

So how many innocent people have not died as a result of the Iraq war?

I get about 13,000 so far.

That’s mathematics, son. Now compare Bill’s calculations to the latest claims from Iraq Body Count, which currently has a maximum of 9758 Iraqi civilians dead.

Turns out war is substantially less deadly than Iraq’s "peace".

Posted by Tim Blair at December 5, 2003 12:47 AM

True, and False, like most stats.

That's the average. Including the Shite Suppression and/or the War on Iran.

Though unknowable if those two one time events are supressed I wonder what the run-rate of deaths looks like?

(Ok, no they weren't exactly one time spikes and all,and it's not fair to remove them entirely either, I'm just curious approximating how nasty he was when he wasn't really exerting himself.)

Posted by: Fred at December 5, 2003 at 02:28 AM

I can't remember the guy's name but I once saw an interview with an Iraqi defector who had been a high ranking Baathist say that at least 2000 people a month were being killed under Saddam's regime. And he emphasized "at least" indicating that was a low-end estimate.

Anyway based on that I've made the same argument to anti-war folks that more civilians have been spared being murdered than were killed in the war, but they don't want to hear it.

Posted by: Randal Robinson at December 5, 2003 at 02:58 AM

The math doesn't prove what you say it proved. You can't count the 300,000 killed in wars with Iran and the US when you say:


So counting out the 300,000 killed in wars, then you get a total of 300,000 in 30 years, or 10,000 per year, or 833 per month. Which is a lower rate than the 9,758 killed according to Iraqi Body Count (and that's not a "maximum"!).

Your broader point is that Saddam was a bad guy. And you're right, and my nitpicking abuot numbers doesn't change that. Of course he was horrible. Of course he killed thousands. But there are lots of bad dictators out there killing their own people. And I am very much in favor of getting rid of them, actually. But if the point is to get rid of leaders who kill their own people, then we picked a terrible place to start with Iraq. Take Congo, say. You could have saved as many lives without taking on the PR problems that come from picking a place that (a) has oil [so it looks like a war for oil], (b) is Arabic and overwhelmingly Islamic [so it can be spun internationally as a war against Islam].

If the goals of this administration were to save lives, we would be spending $87 billion to stop AIDS worldwide, which kills more people than war every year.

Getting rid of Saddam has clearly had some positive effects. But those effects were not the goals of the administration. To support the war because it had some good side-effects seems crazy to me.

Posted by: Kent at December 5, 2003 at 04:18 AM

Regardless of how you cook the numbers, it is undeniable that at some point, perhaps in the near future, perhaps the recent past, the war will have saved more Iraqis than it killed. This means that it is very difficult to sustain any kind of moral argument against the war, as how can it be immoral to engage in activity which, on net, saves lives?

The only possible moral argument left to the antis is to say that the same resources could have saved more lives somewhere else (thanks, Kent). However, this argument suffers from two fatal flaws that I can think of offhand.

First, of course, is that this argument applies to any application of resources to any problem. Thus, I could answer back that spending $87B in Africa to fight AIDS won't save nearly as many lives as spending that same $87B in Africa on clean water and micro-capital development projects. At which point someone else will chime in with their favorite proposal, ad nauseum. In other words, this line of attack doesn't really help us make or evaluate policy in the real world, as it serves merely to showcase whatever your pet cause is, as if it were the only and obvious worthwhile thing to do.

Second, it assumes that the $87B spent in Iraq was taken from African AIDS, or whatever, and/or that spending in Iraq is the sole and only obstacle to spending on your pet cause. Neither of these is true - we could spend on Iraq and African AIDS (and lo and behold, we are doing so - in fact, the $5B being spent there is probably far more than can usefully be absorbed by that project, and most of it will go to waste).

Posted by: R. C. Dean at December 5, 2003 at 05:42 AM

The point of the war wasn't to stop a Dictator killing his own people, it was to prevent him from him killing other nations' people, namely 'Westerners' but specifically Americans.
That was what the pre-emptive bit of the war meant.

I imagine once the Congo is perceived as a similiar threat then it will be taken out as well.

Posted by: Morgan at December 5, 2003 at 08:15 AM

The Congo??? Nothing can repair that place. Nothing short of all-out invasion, extermination of the warring groups, (and I mean extermination) and then the re-instatement of colonialism. And for what? Think the world would be grateful? think the Congo would be?

Iraq can be turned into a civilised country. That would have massive flow-on benifits for the region and the West, defusing Islamic extreemism and increasing world prosperity.

Africa, especially the goddamn Congo (where they are actually eating each other again), is beyond the powers of America to fix or anyone else.

Posted by: Amos at December 5, 2003 at 09:07 AM

'actually eating each other again'

one out of his misery, the other one not hungry any more

that's a win win

Posted by: ilibcc at December 5, 2003 at 10:48 AM

Whittle's comparison is about as good as you will find. The Iraq Body Count site includes deaths during the war, so it includes a few months of war in the total. As I recall, Saddam was at war with either the Iranians, the Kuwaitis, the Kurds or the Allies during a similar portion of his time in power. The Body Count also includes a general survey of the Baghdad morgue, apparently including anyone who appeared to die a violent death. It also includes "civilians" like bank robbers and terrorists killed while building bombs.

Bottom line - don't worry about angels on the head of pin. Saddam is out and that's a good thing.

Posted by: KenG at December 5, 2003 at 11:46 AM

Looks like Tim has discovered moral relativism.

Here's a simple scenario Tim. Say you're an Iraqi father with four kids and a lovely wife. You've worked hard all your life, survived the Iran war, and kept well clear of politics and religion, and just done your job.

Now say a bomb comes through your roof and blows your family to pieces. Now what do you do. Take in on the chin and thank god it was an American who killed your family and say to yourself that your family died for a great cause, or what....

Don't try and answer this with some other argument. Deal with the specific set of circumstances presented here and tell us where your moral compass points to. And whether you think that father should love America's belated interest in Iraqi liberation and not take up arms against a foreign invader whose 500 billion war machine has just killed your family.

Posted by: Peter Richardson at December 5, 2003 at 01:31 PM

Was Saddam the biggest Muslim killer in history? Anyone know?

300k dead is one figure for his killing. But I have heard others, ranging into the several millions. Like Stalin before him, the number of his killings may take some years to be appreciated. It wouldn't be good copy just yet because, you know, it might kinda justify taking him down.

Offhand, I can't remember all the competitors for title. Mao killed a lot - 20 to 25 million - but I don't know how many of those were Muslims from the far west of China. Ditto for Stalin and the southern Soviet Republics.

You get the idea though. I think Saddam must be in the top 10, at least, and possibly number one.

Anyone got some stats on this? It's ironic but the question becomes: Did it take the Great Satan to end the rule of biggest killer of Muslims of his time?

My ironic thought for the day....

Posted by: ras at December 5, 2003 at 01:46 PM


I'll answer that in the words of an Iraqi exile interviewed by Richard Glover on the day of liberation. Glover posed a similar question. The exile's reply: "That's the price that had to be paid."

You, Peter, would have left more Iraqis to die under Saddam's tyranny than were killed in their liberation. That means more fathers furious at the deaths of their wives and children.

This isn't moral relativism. It's a simple equation: the fewer deaths, the better. If you don't agree with that, you're sick, my friend.

Posted by: tim at December 5, 2003 at 02:04 PM

Peter Richardson,

You'd be as mad as hell at the crazies that caused it - Saddam and his friends and relations - and you would spend the rest of your life - quite rightly - avenging the death of your family by fighting Saddamite terrorist henchmen of which there would become fewer and fewer thanks to your efforts.

At least that's what I would do if I were the Iraqui father.

What would you do?

Posted by: ilibcc at December 5, 2003 at 02:16 PM

Trust Tim to use someone else's words point to answer a question. Guess the answer is you don't really know what you would do. And more importantly given you don't have kids you haven't a clue to what I'm talking about.

As to whatever point Ilibcc is trying to make.

It wasn't me who left the Iraqis to die in 1991. That was the American government deciding that a clipped Saddam was better than the Kurds and Shiites getting their freedom.

The whole point of the occupation is to ensure that the final outcome is to America's geo-political pleasing and has nothing to do with what the Iraqi people might want.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the only way Iraq will become peaceful is a redrawing of the country along ethnic lines. And it would work as each area has plenty of oil, but that is not what the US, UK or Turkey want. So don't lecture me about whom I'm apologizing for. The modern Iraq and Kuwait were created as oil nations to serve the interests of foreign companies. And nothing has changed within the current game plan. Years of further suffering will surely follow this latest round of western inference in someone else's country.

Meanwhile let's ask Howard how many Iraqi kids remain in detention in Australia simply because their parents tried to get them out of a hell hole. Such a nice country Australia. Not even the US would do that to Iraqi families. Only Howard who makes political prisoners out of Children would ever be so cruel to win a few votes.

Posted by: Peter Richardson at December 5, 2003 at 02:49 PM

Move from the specific to the blatheringly general very quickly, don't you, Pete?

Posted by: tim at December 5, 2003 at 03:16 PM

I wasn't making a point, Peter.

I was saying what I would do in the 'simple scenario' you portrayed, and then asking what you would do.

What would you do?

Posted by: ilibcc at December 5, 2003 at 03:46 PM

Ok, I did some research myself and answered my own question.

The answer is: Yes, Saddam Hussein appears to be the biggest Muslim Killer in history.

A few different sources confirm this. Here's one that's typical:

"It was Saddam Hussein's regime - history's biggest killer of Muslims, with upwards of 1,000,000 in the wars he launched, plus 300,000 (and counting) in the mass graves being uncovered daily around Iraq."
-Ken Adelman

To be blunt though, I am amazed at the scale of such killings as compared to the Fascists and Communists. Whereas Saddam might have killed 1 or 2 million (most estimates range around Mr. Adelman's number, give or take a small city's worth), the Butcher of Baghdad didn't even come close to his idols.

Progress? Maybe.

Well, as it happens, depending how you count the war dead, it looks like he just makes it into history's top 10 worst killers of the 20th century, bumping Joseph Tito to number 11. If the estimates rise, he has a shot at becoming #8 or #9.

And - in case the tone of this note misleads, which I hope it hasn't - may they rest in peace. I think that those of us who grew up in "normal" times cannot even imagine what their hell was like. Which underscores why it's so important to make sure it doesn't happen again.


Joseph Stalin Soviet Union 1929-1953 42,672,000
Mao Tse-tung China 1923-1976 37,828,000
Adolf Hitler Germany 1933-1945 20,946,000
Chiang Kai-shek China 1921-1948 10,214,000
Vladimir Lenin Soviet Union 1917-1924 4,017,000
Tojo Hideki Japan 1941-1945 3,990,000
Pol Pot Cambodia 1968-1987 2,397,000
Yahya Khan Pakistan 1971 1,500,000
Josip Tito Yugoslavia 1941-1987 1,172,000

Posted by: ras at December 5, 2003 at 06:11 PM