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Thursday, January 12, 2006

How Many Iraqis Have Died Since the US Invasion in 2003?


Iraq Body Count
In this excerpt Counterpunch.org helps shed light on the true costs of the Iraq War

By ANDREW COCKBURN

President Bush's off-hand summation last month of the number of Iraqis who have so far died as a result of our invasion and occupation as "30,000, more or less" was quite certainly an under-estimate. The true number is probably hitting around 180,000 by now, with a possibility, as we shall see, that it has reached as high as half a million. But even Bush's number was too much for his handlers to allow. Almost as soon as he finished speaking, they hastened to downplay the presidential figure as "unofficial", plucked by the commander in chief from "public estimates". Such calculations have been discouraged ever since the oafish General Tommy Franks infamously announced at the time of the invasion: "We don't do body counts". In December 2004, an effort by the Iraqi Ministry of Health to quantify ongoing mortality on the basis of emergency room admissions was halted by direct order of the occupying power. In fact, the President may have been subconsciously quoting figures published by iraqbodycount.org, a British group that diligently tabulates published press reports of combat-related killings in Iraq. Due to IBC's policy of posting minimum and maximum figures, currently standing at 27787 and 31317, their numbers carry a misleading air of scientific precision. As the group itself readily concedes, the estimate must be incomplete, since it omits unreported deaths. There is however another and more reliable method for estimating figures such as these: nationwide random sampling. No one doubts that, if the sample is truly random, and the consequent data correctly calculated, the sampled results reflect the national figures within the states accuracy. That, after all, is how market researchers assess public opinion on everything from politicians to breakfast cereals. Epidemiologists use it to chart the impact of epidemics. In 2000 an epidemiological team led by Les Roberts of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health used random sampling to calculate the death toll from combat and consequent disease and starvation in the ongoing Congolese civil war at 1.7 million. This figure prompted shocked headlines and immediate action by the UN Security Council. No one questioned the methodology.

In September 2004, Roberts led a similar team that researched death rates, using the same techniques, in Iraq before and after the 2003 invasion. Making "conservative assumptions" they concluded that "about 100,000 excess deaths" (in fact 98,000) among men, women, and children had occurred in just under eighteen months. Violent deaths alone had soared twentyfold. But, as in most wars, the bulk of the carnage was due to the indirect effects of the invasion, notably the breakdown of the Iraqi health system. Thus, though many commentators contrasted the iarqbodycount and Johns Hopkins figures, they are not comparable. The bodycounters were simply recording, or at least attempting to record, deaths from combat violence, while the medical specialists were attempting something far more complete, an accounting of the full death toll wrought by the devastation of the US invasion and occupation. Unlike the respectful applause granted the Congolese study, this one, published in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, generated a hail of abusive criticism. The general outrage may have been prompted by the unsettling possibility that Iraq's liberators had already killed a third as many Iraqis as the reported 300,000 murdered by Saddam Hussein in his decades of tyranny.

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