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Reality check 

Since reading about him in this very rag several weeks back, News Hits has paid frequent visits to the site maintained by blogster extraordinaire Juan Cole, a University of Michigan history professor who specializes in the Middle East and its religions. Last week Cole produced a particularly trenchant piece that put into perspective the hell being experienced by the people of Iraq.

Noting that Fearless Leader George W. Bush insists that the pessimists are wrong and that life is improving for Iraqis, Cole attempted to inject a dose of harsh reality into the rosy pronouncements emanating from the Rose Garden.

“What would the United States look like if it were in Iraq’s current situation?” asks the good professor. “The population of the U.S. is more than 11 times that of Iraq’s, so a lot of statistics would have to be multiplied by that number.

“Violence killed 300 Iraqis last week; the equivalent, proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray and aerial bombings in just one week? That is a number greater than the deaths on Sept. 11.”

Among the “what ifs” posited by Cole on his Web site (juancole.com) was the question: “What if the Air Force routinely bombed Billings, Mont.; Flint, Mich.; South-Central Los Angeles; Philadelphia and other areas, attempting to target ‘safe houses’ of ‘criminal gangs’ but inevitably killing a lot of children and little old ladies?”

Liberal hyperbole? Not a chance.

As Knight Ridder’s Nancy A. Youssef just reported, “Operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis — most of them civilians — as attacks by insurgents. …” The damning statistics come from Iraq’s own Health Ministry.

Cole, as it turns out, is quoted in Youssef’s article. That’s not surprising. Since his blogging began, more and more media have been tapping into his expertise. On this issue, Cole points out that the air strikes — which, no matter how surgically precise they are touted to be, almost inevitably carry relatively high rates of what war birds euphemistically like to call “collateral damage” — are being conducted instead of sending in ground troops because the Pentagon is “trying to keep U.S. casualties to a minimum in the run-up to the U.S. elections.”

So much for winning hearts and minds.

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