Watch “If the Shoe Fits” at Takimag.com

When an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad recently, pundits everywhere had fun replaying the footage, commenting on the president’s quick reflexes and some even noted that such an act of defiance was only possible due to the removal of Saddam Hussein. But few took the time to examine the journalist’s stated reason for his actions, when he shouted in Arabic “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”  

Considering the object of his rage, one can only assume the deaths in Iraq the journalist was trying to avenge were those that happened as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation of his country.

That civilian casualties are a tragic reality in any war does not mean a damage assessment is not in order. One of the most often quoted sources in measuring Iraqi civilian deaths is the British-based website “Iraq Body Count” whose current death toll stands at 98,133. The website stresses that their numbers are not estimates, but actual documented deaths, only violent deaths and strictly civilian numbers.

In January, the World Health Organization published another study that suggested the Iraq Body Count website numbers were too low. Reported the New York Times “The World Health Organization said its study, based on interviews with families, indicated with a 95 percent degree of statistical certainty that between 104,000 and 223,000 civilians had died. It based its estimate of 151,000 deaths on that range.”

Reported the same NY Times story “But another study, by Johns Hopkins, which has come under criticism for its methodology, cited an estimate of about 600,000 dead between the war’s start, in March 2003, and July 2006.”

With a low estimate of almost 100,000 and a high estimate at over half a million, somewhere in between lies the truth about Iraqi civilian deaths to date.

Of course Saddam Hussein killed as many if not more of his own people, although over a longer period of time – and the Iraqis hated him for it, as seen by the mass cheering while his statues were toppled in the early days of the war. This week we saw thousands of Iraqis cheering in the streets again, but this time for the journalist who threw his shoes at Bush. It seems in a post-Saddam Iraq; the high death toll remains – only the focus of Iraqi hatred has changed.

And the Iraqis are not unjustified. Only a monster would dismiss such high death tolls as negligible trivialities, and those who still insist on doing so put themselves in the same league with the 9/11 terrorists, who also brushed off the thousands of civilians killed as the cost of war. Whether intentionally targeting civilians or intentionally waging a war in which everyone agrees killing civilians is unavoidable, the decision to sacrifice innocent life in order to achieve a political goal has been made. Sometimes it may indeed be necessary, but the gravity of such decisions should also make it necessary to ask the tough questions – like – in addition to the over 4000 American troops who have perished, was the price paid by the thousands upon thousands of “widows, orphans and those killed in Iraq” worth the benefit to the United States? Was it worth it to Iraq?

To even ask these questions in the United States is to ask for trouble, but ask Americans must, in order to learn from the mistakes of the past. To ask these questions today in Iraq is academic, as they must live everyday with America’s past mistakes, the mistakes we continue to make in the present and those they fear we will continue into the foreseeable future. It is of little mystery as to why upwards of 70% of Iraqis and their government want the U.S. to leave. And it should be of little surprise that any Iraqi might deliver the highest insult to a man many of them consider a terrorist himself.

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.