Tom Engelhardt compares Haditha to My Lai and makes a few important points along the way:
In modern wars, especially those conducted in part from the air (as both Iraq and Afghanistan have been), there's nothing "collateral" about civilian deaths. If anything, the "collateral deaths" are those of the combatants on any side. Civilian deaths are now the central fact, the very essence of war...Engelhardt cites civilian deaths from UN sanctions and then the "shock and awe" bombing campaign, which killed untold numbers of civilians without successfully targetting a single senior Iraqi leader. He cites countless incidents where "jumpy, ill-trained" US soldiers have shot civilians at checkpoints. Then there are the even more "collateral" deaths:
Killing civilians from the air, which automatically seems to fall into the category of "collateral" or "accidental," and never the criminal (no matter how often civilians die from it), is actually far more destructive and so far worse. It should, of course, be obvious that, if you are going to destroy what you believe to be a "terrorist safe house" in the middle of an urban neighborhood, noncombatants who just happen to be living in the environs will be "damaged."
... Those 24 dead noncombatants are not, in fact, an "incident" at all, nor "isolated," nor – another of those then-and-now terms – an "aberration." Make no mistake, they are the essence of this war.
We were unable to deliver potable water or significant electricity, or repair sewage systems already badly damaged by Gulf War I and the sanctions that followed. More civilians got sick, more died. We couldn't deliver jobs and tried to cut down on Saddam-era state-delivered rations. More childhood malnutrition, more deaths. Unemployment remained sky-high. Less money, less ability to care for families, more deaths...
The upshot of all of this is the central fact of the war: a staggering civilian death toll impossible to calculate...
Though there is no way to know the real figures on invasion and occupation-related civilian deaths in Iraq, they are the essence of what's happened. They are both modern war and a crime. Given the history of war (and of American warfare) in the last half of the last century, they were largely predictable. They represent neither a set of isolated incidents, nor collateral damage, nor – over three years later – can they be ascribed to accident. Neither can Haditha.