Losing hearts and minds in the Middle East

The civilian death toll in Lebanon has been ugly -- but pales in comparison with the recent carnage in Iraq.

Published August 2, 2006 4:23PM (EDT)

Civilian casualties are a grim fact of all wars. But while the carnage rained down by Israeli airstrikes on Qana last week further riveted the world's attention on Lebanon, the war unleashed by the Bush administration in the region more than three years ago brought a far more devastating toll in July.

According to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, which estimates the mounting toll of the war based on news reports, nearly 1,300 Iraqis were killed last month. (The number includes Iraqi security forces and policemen, but many of them, like Iraqi civilians, are killed in suicide and bomb attacks.) That is, the number of Iraqi deaths in July approaches the number of civilians killed at Qana, on every day of the month.

The vortex of death in Iraq is, of course, more directly attributable to insurgents and the country's deepening sectarian violence, but the U.S. has also contributed to the horrors beyond the conventional battlefield. Today, unnamed Pentagon officials told reporters that the military has completed its primary investigation into the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops in the town of Haditha late last year. According to the Associated Press, the Pentagon says the evidence collected by investigators supports accusations that Marines deliberately shot the civilians, including unarmed women and children.

Those findings come as the Marine who led the unit, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington today, charging that Rep. Jack Murtha, the outspoken Pennsylvania Democrat and Vietnam veteran, defamed Wuterich in comments Murtha made this spring about the Haditha atrocities. But with today's findings from the Pentagon, it looks like Murtha -- who has close ties to military leaders and cited inside sources in May -- had it exactly right when he said that the troops had "killed innocent civilians in cold blood," and that the military had covered it up. That can only compound the damage to America's global reputation, which stands increasingly against a backdrop of death and destruction in the Middle East.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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