What about Iraqi and Afghan casualties?

posted Jun 2, 2009, 7:23 PM by Sean Askay   [ updated Jun 2, 2009, 11:15 PM ]
Both the Iraqi and Afghan people have suffered substantial civilian losses in these conflicts. Specifically for the Iraqi casualties, there is a lot debate about the numbers (both estimates and those based on new reports) which range from 100,000 to 1,000,000+. I've done a little research, and here are some of the commonly cited ones, which you can read about in Wikipedia (Casualties of the Iraq War):

I would be interested in mapping civilian casualties as well. Hundreds of thousands of everyday-people in Iraq have suffered incredible losses in these conflicts and their stories are relatively untold.

The majority of these casualties aren't insurgents or original members of the opposing army (though I can argue that a life if a life, and that they should be mapped too). Primarily, I am talking about those that have suffered the greatest loses: those mothers, fathers, children and entire families that have been caught in the crossfire.

Though the original scope of this map was just military casualties, here are some other reasons why launching such a combined map on Memorial Day would have been problematic:

  • Keeping it respectful and apolitical: 
    With a targeted launch of Memorial Day in the U.S., and with the intention of honoring and respecting those that have died, I didn't want to embroil this project in political controversy. Controversy would entirely defeat my intentions, and detract from the purpose of a memorial. The Iraqi and Afghan civilians that have died also deserve to be respected, remembered and honored. Would it appropriate to launch such a project on an American holiday? Is there some Iraqi holiday that would be most appropriate?

    I am not trying to make a political statement here, which is why everyone from the far-right to the far-left have appreciated this project. I have gone to great lengths to seek outside perspectives to ensure I'm not presenting a political agenda, rather just giving the information for people to view interpret for themselves. If I am to make a map of Iraqi or Afghan casualties, I would need to create somethings that is also as neutral as possible, and with the consultation of many Iraqi families that are close to the issue. At present, I do not have such connections, and would certainly need to establish them before even considering creating such a map.

  • Debate and Data availability and where to place on the map: 
    There is a lot of controversy and debate over estimates and data sources for Iraqi casualties. As mentioned above tallies created from news reports and those made by surveys and statistical estimates place the number between 100,000 and 1,000,000+.

    Which is the "right" dataset to use? Should I use the high numbers based on estimates and face criticism for over-estimating? Or use the lower numbers based on media reports and be accused of under-estimation? Only one of the sources for civilian casualties in Iraq have information about date the location of incidents. The others are estimates. Where on a map should these "undocumented" deaths appear?

    At this time, I am not aware of any resource that details Afghan casualties.

  • I am only one person.
    This is an incredible amount of work. Since there is such a lack of information for those Iraqis that have died, ideally such a tool would allow friends and family of those lost to also tell their stories and upload photos. Creating such a system would be a whole lot of work, especially considering I don't speak Arabic. Is it fair to provide such a wealth of information for our Coalition troops, and have barely any information for the civilians? What would such a system look like?

  • Technical limitations of Google Earth:
    Having an intimate knowledge of the inner working of Google Earth, putting one million placemarks (and even 100,000) on the map, especially when they are so concentrated in urban areas, presents a real technical challenge. Such a map might crash older computers (note all the problems people have with this one!), or perform very, very slowly. 

All said, I do think that this is an important part of the story. These people deserve to have their stories told too. If you have a particular personal interest in seeing civilian casualties mapped for Iraq or Afghanistan, I would love to hear your ideas. Please send me an email, which is accessible on my blogger profile.