The carnage in Iraq continues, but what did anyone expect? Roadside bombs (IEDs) take their deadly almost daily toll on U.S. troops in and around Baghdad (and adjoining provinces). Seventy-five Americans have already died in March, at least 50 of them from roadside bombs. Of course, that’s a drop in the bucket, when it comes to Iraqi casualties. The now widely discussed Lancet study of Iraqi “excess deaths” between the invasion of March 2003 and June 2006 offered an estimated figure of 655,000. Its careful, door-to-door methodology was vehemently rejected by both George Bush (not “a credible report”) and Tony Blair. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, however, recently obtained British government documents indicate that the study’s methodology was indeed sound. (“[T]he chief scientific adviser to the Defense Ministry, Roy Anderson, described the methods used in the study as ‘robust’ and ‘close to best practice’… In another document, a government official — whose name has been blanked out — said ‘the survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones.'”)
None of this is likely to fully penetrate the mainstream in the U.S. During the week of the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, both NBC and ABC in their prime-time news shows typically continued to cite the figure of 60,000 for Iraqi deaths — despite the fact that the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq calculated 34,452 Iraqi deaths for 2006 alone and this is known to be an honest undercount, because some bodies never make it to morgues or hospitals and, in the embattled no-go zones of the Sunni insurgency, official reporting of deaths is weak at best.
With the President’s surge plan well underway and “encouraging signs” of progress in Baghdad already being hailed — how long can we be encouraged on the road to hell? — Iraq is ever more a charnel house, a killing ground. The latest real surge is in car and truck bombs driven by Sunni jihadis, which have reached record levels in exact conjunction with the attempt to flood Baghdad with American troops. On this roiling planet, the car or truck bomb is the weapon of the under-armed and under-funded, and, for almost a century, it has proven remarkably unstoppable no matter whose hands have been on the steering wheel. No one who wants to understand the particularities of our violent age should, then, miss Mike Davis’ remarkable new history of this devastating weapon of our time, Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb.