When the Pentagon starts throwing around estimates of who got killed and how in its assorted wars in the Middle East, they are often wildly inaccurate. Nowhere was this more apparent than a new briefing this week on estimates in the 2003-2011 Iraq War.
Designed for Special Envoy Brian Hook to give hawkish speeches on Iran, the briefing estimated that Iran was “responsible” for the deaths of 608 US troops during the Iraq War. This was an upward revision from a 2015 estimate of 500, and seemingly was only done to allow Hook to bring it up now.
A more accurate estimate would, of course, be zero deaths. Despite years of anti-Iran rhetoric, the US has never conclusively pinned a single death on the Iranian government or its forces. Rather, these deaths are all loosely attributable to Iraqi Shi’ite factions.
That anyone Shi’ite is necessarily under Iranian command is a popular conceit for US officials, and in Iraq, where 60 percent of the population is Shi’ite, there are no shortage of Shi’ites to blame, particularly militias that didn’t support the US occupation of Iraq.
Some of these groups had ideological ties to Iran, though other substantial factions, like the Mehdi Army, were nationalist groups that opposed both US and Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs. It is convenient for the US to blame Iran, however, so that’s what they’re doing.
Trying to make all Shi’ites equal Iran has continued beyond the Iraq War. In Syria, the US has routinely threatened Shi’ite militias for being “Iranian fighters,” and the entire justification for US meddling in the Yemen War is that the Shi’ite Houthi movement, whose form of Shi’a Islam is distinct from the one in Iran, must be in league with Iran.