SEYMOUR HERSH CALLED IT RIGHT. Iraq has become a body count exercise, and we all need to be worried about the ramifications.
The New York Times‘ Norimitsu Onishi asks in an article today “How Many Iraqis are Dying?”
Best estimates for the past week:
From Oct. 11 to Oct. 17, an estimated 208 Iraqis were killed in war-related incidents, significantly higher than the average week; 23 members of the United States military died over the same period.
The article goes on:
…On Tuesday, 46 Iraqis were reported killed. Just after midnight, an American warplane flattened Falluja’s most popular restaurant, Hajji Hussein, famous for its kebabs. The military said it was a meeting place for terrorists and was no longer frequented by ordinary people. Ali Hussein, the owner, said his son and nephew, who had been working as nighttime guards, were killed in the strike.
He denied that insurgents came to the restaurant, which was founded by his father.
“This is a well-known restaurant in midtown,” Mr. Hussein said. “We have a lot of people always going in and out. No one can hide in here. We are on the main street. How could there be any Zarqawi people inside?”
The largest number, at least 15, were reportedly killed in an attack against an Iraqi National Guard outpost near Qaim, along the border with Syria. Many Iraqi insurgents are believed to be based on the other side of the border and to receive support from Syrians…

Seymour Hersh told me that he had received a phone call from the father of a distraught and upset soldier who wanted to go public that Americans had killed friendly Iraqis whom his detachment had gotten to know. The captain to whom the soldier reported said it was all about “body count now.”
I do not know whether this outpost near the Syrian border, referenced above, is the same site as that mentioned by Hersh — but it sounds pretty close.
As if Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were not enough, a calloused attitude towards the killing of innocents pretty much nails the coffin lid down on our ‘hearts and minds battle’ in Iraq and the Middle East writ large.
If there are troops out there reading this, email me at steve@thewashingtonnote.com if you believe that the norms of this conflict are veering in My Lai-like directions, or not.
I will not publish anything that exposes anyone’s identity — but we need to better understand whether body-count happy commanders are taking over in the field.
— Steve Clemons