Every day it's the same old story out of Iraq. A car bomb in Mosul kills four. A suicide bomber in Baghdad kills eight. Terrorists have destabilized the country and civil war could break out at any moment, we're told.
Judging by the coverage, there's no doubt that the terrorists have become the media darlings of the Iraq war. There's simply no other conclusion you can draw when the majority of the daily articles on the war seem to focus on terrorists blasting a bloody path through Iraq, leaving death and destruction in their wake.
But is all that coverage justified by the body count?
A bombshell statistic buried on page 10 of the now-infamous "Iraq Body Count" report suggests it isn't. According to the report, which was compiled by anti-war activists from media and mortuary reports, 24,865 Iraqi civilians were killed in war-related violence between March 2003 and March 2005. Of those people, 2,671 (just 11 percent) were killed by terrorists or anti-occupation forces.
Statistically speaking, in a country of 26 million, terrorists have managed to kill just one out of every 10,000 Iraqi citizens over that two-year period. To put it in perspective, consider this: The odds that a typical American driver will die in a car wreck in a given year are one in 10,000. The odds that the average American woman will die during childbirth are the same.
Unfortunately, no one apparently bothered to read past page three of the report. The reporters at the The New York Times and Associated Press were too busy screaming about the civilian body count, and their conservative critics were too busy screaming about how unfair it was that news organizations reported casualty statistics collected by liberal anti-war activists.
That's a shame, because if people had looked further, Americans might have gotten their first glimpse of the truth. Though you'd never know it from the media's terrorist-focused coverage of the war, the terrorists are actually little more than third-rate players in the ongoing slaughter of Iraqi civilians. If terrorists plan to recreate the Crusades-era Islamic caliphate on earth, they're going to have to get their act together. Their Wahhabist ancestors who slaughtered their way across the Arabian Peninsula without the benefit of modern explosives must be spinning in their graves.
So who is responsible for filling the morgues of Iraq? That would be the criminal gangs, who apparently aren't sexy enough to merit the coverage the media gives the terrorists, but who seem to be gaining a real foothold in Iraq. According to mortuary records surveyed by those who authored the report -- the Western media rarely covers the murders of civilians by thugs, the report notes -- criminals killed 8,935 Iraqis, or 36 percent of the civilian body count. The report fails to distinguish how many of those murdered by criminals in Iraq were innocent civilians, and how many were rival gang members, probably because that information is unknowable.
Then there's the No. 1 killer of Iraqi civilians: us. According to the report, US-led forces killed 9,270 Iraqis over the same period. Another 663 got caught in the crossfire between American and anti-occupation forces.
The authors of the "Iraq Body Count" say they didn't include terrorists and insurgents in their civilian death totals, but they also say they culled most of their data on civilian deaths from newspaper reports. That's problematic, because until November of last year, when the military began specifically breaking out terrorist dead in its daily releases, media reports often listed the total number of people who died in violent incidents without distinguishing how many were terrorists.
While mentions of criminal activity in Iraq are becoming more common in news stories, it appears the media may have the terrorist-driven premise of their template-style war coverage dead wrong. The body count suggests the biggest threat to the country isn't terrorists, but criminals, gangs and lawlessness.
How could anyone have missed a body count this big?