85,000

That’s how many Iraqis died in the war between 2004 and 2008. Iraq’s human rights ministry released that grim number a week ago.


We keep an exact count of the number of Americans who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or the number of British troops and other coalition members. But no one really counts the civilians. The children. The mothers. The grandmothers. They remain nameless, numbing numbers in headlines. “42 died in suicide bombing.”

“Outlawed groups through terrorist attacks like explosions, assassinations, kidnappings or forced displacements created these terrible figures, which represent a huge challenge for the rule of law and for the Iraqi people,” the ministry said.

“These figures draw a picture about the impact of terrorism and the violation of natural life in Iraq,” the ministry said in a draft report on deaths in Iraq.


But no one really knows how many Iraqis died.

The Iraqi government report was compiled with death certificates issued by the health ministry. What about all those people who never saw home again. Or whose families never reported a death out of sheer fear.

I know people who have lost loved ones and kept silent. One death in the family was enough.

Some Iraqis were killed by AK-47 fire, rockets, mortars, and bombs, otherwise known as improvised explosive devices. Some were abducted, stabbed or beheaded. In places like Ramadi, such gruesome acts were carried out in public places and in broad daylight.


The capital of al-Anbar province was once al-Qaida’s haven and an Iraqi citizen’s hell on Earth — the neighborhood of Melaab was known as “the heart of darkness.”

I asked Ramadi residents what life was like before the insurgency was quelled. They glided their right index finger across their throats. The insurgents brazenly beheaded people in public and distributed videos of the executions. Think of what kind of fear an ordinary Iraqi lived through. And still does.
The headlines these days report fewer incidents of violence.

But one bullet, one bomb — is all it takes.

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