Thursday, June 30, 2005

Ransom and Terror in Iraq

(With Update)

The following is a chart representing the evolution of civilian casualties in Iraq. I have adapted it from the Brookings Institution publication here [pdf-file]. The Brookings data is taken in turn from the anti-Iraq War website "Iraq Body Count" (IBC). Via a remarkable sort of moral contortionism, the latter manages to hold the Iraq War Coalition, and, of course, first and foremost the United States, responsible for Iraqi civilians killed in terrorist attacks by the anti-government Iraqi insurgents. I doubt that IBC's statistical methodology would be any more capable of holding up to scrutiny than its moral reasoning is. It does, however, have the advantage for my purposes here of reflecting the media reports on Iraqi violence that are driving the current debates on American policy in Iraq. Please note that the June figure is just an extrapolation from the previous trend, though a glance at the IBC data base suggests that an extrapolation from IBC partial data for June would result in a roughly similar figure. Here then is the chart:

(click on image for larger version)

The red arrows I have placed along the x-axis mark the dates of presumed ransom payments to hostage-takers. The exact dates and episodes are given below. The figures in parentheses represent either the reported amount(s) of a ransom payment or an amount demanded by the hostage-takers prior to release. The governments of the states involved (Italy, France, Romania, and the Philippines) have, of course, typically denied paying ransom or refused to comment.

September 1, 2004: KGL (Kuwait Gulf and Link) Truckers ($500,000)

September 28, 2004: The "Two Simonas" ($1 million)

December 21, 2004: Malbrunot and Chesnot ($6 million [demanded])

March 4, 2005: Giuliana Sgrena ($1 million - $13.4 million)

May 22, 2005: Romanian Journalists (?)

June 12, 2005: Florence Aubenas ($15 million)

June 22, 2005: Roberto Tarongoy ($1.4 million)

Note that the spike in civilian deaths in April 2004 is presumably linked to the siege of Fallujah and that in June 2004 to heightened terrorist activity aimed at disrupting the transfer of sovereignty. If one corrects for these two anomalies, the correlation between civilian casualties in Iraq and ransom payment would be more striking. One wonders if the Malbrunot and Chesnot release in late December - celebrated in France as a "Christmas present" - did not in fact serve to finance the wave of terrorist attacks that accompanied the Iraqi elections the following January.

(Note: For background, see "More Euros for Terror?" and these follow-ups:

"Follow-Up: The Release of Florence Aubenas"
"Oops! She (Florence Aubenas) Did it Again..."
"That's What Friends Are For"
"Letter from Baghdad"

If readers know of other presumed or confirmed cases of ransom payments that I may have overlooked, please let me know, either in the comments below or at Thanks!)

(Note 2: Many thanks for the nod from Michelle Malkin ("Blood Money Begets More Blood"), one of the few American commentators to have emphasized the connection I've tried to illustrate above [see here, for instance]. Michelle also points me to reports of ransom payments in the cases of two Filipino hostages. Having just started to familiarize myself with the details, my initial reaction is that the more recent case of Roberto Tarongoy likely does belong to the series of, so to say, "economic hostage takings", whereas in the earlier case of Angelo de la Cruz the Filipino government's denials regarding a ransom payment are at least plausible - namely, inasmuch as it caved on the hostage-takers' political demand that the Filipino troop contingent in Iraq be withdrawn. I'll continue to collect feedback from readers today on possible ransom payments and then update the chart tomorrow.)


I have added a seventh red arrow to the x-axis to mark the June 22 release of the Filipino hostage Roberto Tarongoy. Again, my thanks to Michelle Malkin for bringing this case to my attention. It has been my general methodology here to presume the payment of ransom in the absence of any political demands being met - or, of course, if the payer has confirmed such payment (as in the KGL episode). This is just to apply Occam's Razor. Any other assumption - such as, "the jihadis had a change of heart" - is more complicated, more arbitrary and less plausible. In the Tarongoy case, the kidnappers demanded ransom, so one can presume they eventually received ransom. Shortly before the release of Tarongoy, they also apparently put forward a political demand: namely, that the Philipinnes should assure that no Filipino citizens travel to Iraq. But inasmuch as such a ban was formally already in place - Tarongoy had himself violated it in entering Iraq - the hostage-takers presumably agreed to make such a demand in order to provide some margin of deniability for the Arroyo government regarding a ransom payment.

Others who know more about this case than I are most welcome to add comments or drop me a line at