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Doubts about Death Numbers in Iraq, but not in Darfur

Between 392,979 and 942,636 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred, is the conclusion of a survey by Iraqi physicians and overseen by epidemiologists at the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The findings were published by the British medical journal The Lancet. Of course, the survey is one of the hottest topics in the blogosphere. For the left it is easy to use the survey as proof of the alleged disaster of the Iraq war. And for the right it is easy to criticize the alleged bias of the researchers and the uncertainty of the estimate. The Washington Post writes about the "mixed reviews." Richard Horton, the editor of The Lancet, writes a long defense of the survey in The Guardian, including this comparison with Darfur:
This method is now tried and tested. It has been the basis for mortality estimates in war zones such as Darfur and the Congo. Interestingly, when we report figures from these countries politicians do not challenge them. They frown, nod their heads and agree that the situation is grave and intolerable. The international community must act, they say. When it comes to Iraq the story is different.
In the end, the exact number of victims is not so important to analyse the very different situations in Darfur and in Iraq. See Marc Cooper's comment.

UPDATE:
While the exact number of Iraqi casualties might not be crucial for analysing the situation, the high number (whatever estimate you use) should be of concern. The US Congress has created an Iraqi War Victims Fund, because thanks to Marla Ruzicka's lobby work the lawmakers have realized that a compassionate response to civilians accidentally injured or killed due to U.S. military action is important for gaining trust, winning hearts and minds and stabilizing Iraq. The Atlantic Review recommended the new book about Marla Ruzicka.

The Congressional Research Service has published the report "Iraqi Civilian, Police, and Security Forces Casualties Estimate" (pdf), which was updated on September 14, 2006. (HT: Shaun) The State Department links to that report.

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Atlantic Review on : Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of Iraq and the Mortality Estimates

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While "the Bush administration has complained about the tenor of media coverage of the war in Iraq ever since the April 2003 looting that followed the fall of Baghdad," negative stories in the U.S. media have only "outweighed positive ones

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Fuchur on :

Marc Cooper raises a good question: Why do we have to rely upon studies like this one, made under such imperfect conditions? Why are there no official numbers from the US government? And it seems to me that Richard Horton has a good point - if these statistical methods are well accepted in other areas, why should they not be used in Iraq?

Don on :

Possibly because it's - impossible. Fuchur? WWII was probably the most well-documented war in history, with WWI not too far behind. Yet do we know the total casulties of WWII within plus or minus (say) 5 million? No. Consider the Battle of Verdun. A set piece battle in the most civilized portion of the world with two of the best beauracracies on earth. Current estimates of deaths at Verdun range from a million to more than 2 million. One more thing: If the US government actually produced such an estimate - would you believe it?

Fuchur on :

I´ve heard people compare Iraq to Vietnam - but comparing it to WWII is a little bit exaggerated, isn´t it? ;-) And then, of course, you run right into Horton´s argument: If you consider it impossible to collect these data for Iraq - how can you even hope to get casualty estimates for Darfur?

Don on :

"how can you even hope to get casualty estimates for Darfur?" I don't. Lots is close enough. Lots and lots - like Rwanda.

Fuchur on :

Here´s something I wonder about: Mark Cooper writes "...the U.S. government has made a point of [i]not[/i] compiling Iraqi deaths." Does anybody know what´s the story behind this?

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I don't know, but I guess it's because of Vietnam. [quote="Washington Post"]The Vietnam experience led U.S. commanders to shun issuing enemy death tallies in later conflicts, through the initial stages of the Iraq war. "We don't do body counts on other people," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in November 2003, when asked on "Fox News Sunday" whether the number of enemy dead exceeded the U.S. toll. That policy appeared to shift with the assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah in November, an operation considered crucial at the time to denying safe havens to enemy fighters. U.S. military officials reported 1,200 to 1,600 enemy fighters killed, although reporters on the scene noted far fewer corpses were found by Marines after the fighting.[/quote] [url]http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/23/AR2005102301273.html[/url]

JW-Atlantic Review on :

@ Fuchur Or were you referring to civilian deaths? The military is counting civilian victims, but does not publish their numbers. I found an Independent article on the Iraqi Body Count website: [quote="Independent, June 2004"]Ruzicka wrote a week before her death on Saturday and published yesterday, the 28-year-old revealed that a Brigadier General told her it was "standard operating procedure" for US troops to file a report when they shoot a non-combatant. She obtained figures for the number of civilians killed in Baghdad between 28 February and 5 April, and discovered that 29 had been killed in firefights involving US forces and insurgents. This was four times the number of Iraqi police killed. "These statistics demonstrate that the US military can and does track civilian casualties," she wrote. "Troops on the ground keep these records because they recognise they have a responsibility to review each action taken and that it is in their interest to minimise mistakes, especially since winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis is a key component of their strategy." Sam Zia-Zarifi, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, the group for which Ms Ruzicka wrote the report, said her discovery "was very important because it allows the victims to start demanding compensation". He added: "At a policy level they have never admitted they keep these figures."[/quote] [url]http://www.iraqbodycount.org/coverage/ind_20apr2005.php[/url] More background is probably to be found in the just published book about Marla Ruzicka, wich the Atlantic Review recommended: [url]http://atlanticreview.org/archives/410-Sweet-Relief-A-New-Book-about-Humanitarian-Activist-Marla-Ruzicka.html[/url] but I have not read it yet. The US Congress has created a fund to financially compensate the families. If anybody wants to know why that is in the US interest, then read here: [url]http://atlanticreview.org/archives/243-Marla-Ruzicka,-civilian-victims-and-reconciliation.html[/url] You, Fuchur (and others), probably saw that already, but for some of our new readers, I just wanted to point it out again.

Fuchur on :

Thanks for the info!

David on :

The study only confirms what (WWII bombardier)historian Howard Zinn has said about modern warfare: "I came to the conclusion that, given the technology of modern warfare, war is inevitably a war against children, against civilians. When you look at the ratio of civilian to military dead, it changes from 50-50 in World War II to 80-20 in Vietnam, maybe as high as 90-10 today ... When you face that fact, war is now always a war against civilians, and so against children. No political goal can justify it, and so the great challenge before the human race in our time is to solve the problems of tyranny and aggression, and do it without war."

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I have written an update and linked to a Congressional Research Service report titled "Iraqi Civilian, Police, and Security Forces Casualties Estimate"

Don on :

The Lancet does seem to get it's money's worth from relatively few actual counted deaths. http://instapundit.com/archives/033162.php Tim Blair points out: * It is larger than the total number of Americans killed during combat in every major conflict, from the Revolutionary War to the first Gulf War. * It is more than double the combined number of civilians killed in the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. * It is a larger number than were killed in Germany during five years (and 955,044 tons) of WWII bombing. http://timblair.net/ee/index.php/weblog/547_becomes_654965/ Why not just ask Carl Sagan? http://www.amazon.com/Billions-Thoughts-Death-Brink-Millennium/dp/0345379187

JW-Atlantic Review on :

"relatively few actual counted deaths." a) The survey's method and findings have been accepted, when estimated the number of deaths in Congo and Darfur. b) The survey organizers worked more thorougly than most pollster do. A quote from the Guardian article mentioned in the post: [quote="The Guardian"]The same team from Johns Hopkins University worked with Iraqi doctors to visit over 1,800 homes in Iraq, selected randomly to make sure that no bias could creep in to their calculations. They identified more than 12,000 family members and tracked those who had died over an interval that spanned both pre- and post-invasion periods. The Iraqi interviewers spoke fluent English as well as Arabic, and they were well trained to collect the information they were seeking. They asked permission from every family to use the data they wanted. And they chased down death certificates in over four out of five cases to make sure that they had a double check on the numbers and causes of death given to them by family members.[/quote] Having said that, I do find the number surprising and I can think of a few reasons for errors in the estimate. Though as I wrote in the update, the exact number is not so important. Also I agree with Marc Cooper (see link in post) who wrote: [quote="Marc Cooper"]If this report is anywhere remotely accurate it ought to be a sobering warning of what we have wrought in Iraq-- a slaughter on the scale or even greater than that unleashed by Saddam Hussein. Even if it overstates the death toll by double, it would still be five times higher than what most estimates have assumed to date. I doubt, as a nation, that we will ever come to terms with such horrific numbers. We very properly memorialize the 52,000 American deaths in Vietnam. But how often do we stop to ponder that the same war cost the Vietnamese two, or is it three, million? The new study will be hotly and fiercely debated in the days to come but the arguments themselves will mean little to nothing. Like participants in a massive Rorschach test each one of us will swear seeing in these statistics only what we wish. [/quote] You write and quote Tim Blair: "* It is a larger number than were killed in Germany during five years (and 955,044 tons) of WWII bombing." Are you sure? Tim Blair's only source for that is a comment someone made on his blog. Wikipedia says Germany had 5,5 mio military deaths and 1,8 mio civilian deaths, excluding the Holocaust. [url]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties#Casualties_by_country[/url] Where were those civilians killed, if not in Germany. So, the number of civilian deaths in Germany is three times as high as the number of Iraqis, if Wikipedia and the Johns Hopkins study are correct. Okay, I should not rely on Wikipedia. The Air Force Magazine quotes on page 54 the Encyclopedia Britannica by stating that Germany had 3,5 military deaths and 780,000 civilian deaths. [url]http://www.afa.org/magazine/June2003/0603casualties.pdf[/url] Poland, the UdSSR, Yugoslavia and China had many more. And smaller countries suffered even more. And of course, Germany started it all. I can't remember or grasp big numbers anyway. Intellectually I understand the difference between for example 200,000 and 300,000 but emotionally I can't comprehend the difference. I don't feel any different, whether someone tells me that in conflict xyz there have been 200,000 casualties or there have been 300,000 casualties. Do you know what I mean?

Don on :

"Where were those civilians killed, if not in Germany." To be sure. But bombing probably didn't kill that many. London lost 20,000 killed due to the Blitz - that's all. I'd guess the bulk of German civilian deaths came from durect actions by the armies (German as well as Russian and Allied). Starvation, disease, etc would also account for quite a few - and bombing had soemthing to do with that by breaking down the infrastructure. Did Lancet do the study do you think? I'd guess not - the number would be much larger....

Detlef on :

[i]But bombing probably didn't kill that many. London lost 20,000 killed due to the Blitz - that's all.[/i] Are you sure? The July 1943 bombings of Hamburg (Operation Gomorrha, 4 days and nights?) killed 35,000 to 45,000 people. Likewise the Dresden bombings in February 1945 (3 days) killed 25,000 to 35,000 people. That´s just two cities. For what it´s worth, most historians now place the number of Germans killed by bombings at around 500,000 to 600,000. Not that relevant to the actual discussion about Iraq, I know. :) Just thought I´d mention it.

Don on :

An Iraqi blogger responds: http://iraqthemodel.blogspot.com/2006/10/responding-to-lancet-lies.html Some choice excepts from a great rant: "I wonder if that research team was willing to go to North Korea or Libya and I think they wouldn’t have the guts to dare ask Saddam to let them in and investigate deaths under his regime. No, they would’ve shit their pants the moment they set foot in Iraq and they would find themselves surrounded by the Mukhabarat men counting their breaths. However, maybe they would have the chance to receive a gift from the tyrant in exchange for painting a rosy picture about his rule. They shamelessly made an auction of our blood, and it didn’t make a difference if the blood was shed by a bomb or a bullet or a heart attack because the bigger the count the more useful it becomes to attack this or that policy in a political race and the more useful it becomes in cheerleading for murderous tyrannical regimes." Gosh. Doesn't he understand it was all done for his good? Or else the good of people in places like North Korea and Darfur. The Yankee imperialist fascist murderers must be dissuaded from EVER doing anything ever again - this is the sole consideration. "To me their motives are clear, all they want is to prove that our struggle for freedom was the wrong thing to do. And they shamelessly use lies to do this…when they did not find the death they wanted to see on the ground, they faked it on paper! They disgust me…" Freedom? Your freedom is of no value whatsoever. remember. The problem is never Saddam Hussein or Kim Il Jung. It is George 'Chimpy' Bush.....

JW-Atlantic Review on :

What's great about that rant? a) The Lancet editor said that someone conducted a similar study in Darfur. b) Do you really want to be compared to North Korea? Is that the benchmark? As long as you are better than Norht Korea everything is fine...

Don on :

Who is comparing ME to North Korea? That kind of thing usually comes out of the Kos crows - or europeans, Joerg. If Bush were to invade and free North Korea, the story which would be told is of all the deaths which resulted - even if US forces didn't do the killing. Even the starvation deaths would be ascribed to the US. In fact they are done now - because Bush doesn't pay off the 'Dear Leader' the way Clinton did!

JW-Atlantic Review on :

The guy you quoted did that in his silly criticism of the survey.

Don on :

Sorry Joerg, I don't see the comparison. I suppose my senstiivity to such things has been numbed by being compared with Hitler and told I am a fascist or a nazi so many times. Nazi being a widely used synonym for the most conservative half of the US voting population, give or take.

David on :

Hey Don, the only Nazi comparisons I hear are from Bush, describing the "Islamofascists". The implication is that those of us who oppose his failed policy (now 66% of all Americans) are Nazi sympathizers. Notice how his poll numbers fall each time he invokes Hitler (and Stalin,Lenin, etc.) when speaking about the stakes in Iraq.

Bill on :

Skipped everybody else's comments to leave this note for Jörg: I see that you followed up on that tip I gave you about the January 2006 Mortality Survey for the DR Congo led by the IRC (Intl. Rescue Committee) and published in The Lancet medical journal. Good boy. Here is a link to the IRC press release in case anyone is interested: http://www.theirc.org/news/page-27819067.html I also see that The Lancet editor Richard Horton fell back on those DRC numbers and the world community's general acceptance of the credibility of that mortality survey when he came under fire about the latest Iraq survey. As I said to you before, deaths in Iraq is a big deal for the media and the world community, deaths in the DR Congo is not. Go figure. Here is an excerpt from the IRC press release about that DRC Mortality Study: The prestigious British medical journal The Lancet has published the results of an International Rescue Committee-led mortality survey in the Democratic Republic of Congo in its January 7 issue. The article [registration required], containing slightly revised data from the IRC mortality study initially released in December 2004, demonstrates that nearly four million people have died as a result of the ongoing conflict. “It is a sad indictment of us all that seven years into this crisis ignorance about its scale and impact is almost universal, and that international engagement remains completely out of proportion to humanitarian need,” IRC’s health director Rick Brennan said in a Lancet press release. The three previous IRC studies, conducted between 2000 and 2002, demonstrated that an estimated 3.3 million people had died as a result of the war. Latest estimates from the 2004 study highlight how 3.9 million people have died since the conflict began in 1998. “We have conducted additional tests that have provided a more accurate estimate of mortality,” Brennan says. “This additional analysis resulted in higher estimates of both the crude mortality rate and the mortality rate in children below five years of age .” The latest figures indicate that almost 38,000 deaths occur in DR Congo every month above what is considered a ‘normal level’ for the country, translating into 1,250 excess deaths every day. Over 70 percent of these deaths, most due to easily preventable and treatable diseases, occur in the insecure eastern provinces. “Less than two percent of the deaths were directly due to violence,” Brennan points out. “However, if the effects of violence – such as the insecurity that limits access to health care facilities – were removed, mortality rates would fall to almost normal levels.” 38,000 deaths a month. Mainly innocent women and children dying of hunger and illness from easily preventable disease, and I'm supposed to be disturbed about death rates in Iraq!? What, are you stupid?

Fuchur on :

"38,000 deaths a month ... and I'm supposed to be disturbed about death rates in Iraq!?" Well, if the alternative was that people would start caring about Kongo or Sudan, you might have a point. As it is, the alternative is that people are disturbed about Iraq - or that they don´t care at all. Sorry, but that´s reality.

Bill on :

Reuters AlertNet has an article by Francesco Checchi on the Iraq Mortality Study published by The Lancet medical journal. See the Oct 12th article "Doubts about Iraq Death Toll" at this URL: http://www.alertnet.org/thefacts/reliefresources/116066724942.htm Fuchur you are right. People worldwide "are disturbed" about the violence in Iraq for various reasons, ignoring equally violent or even more dangerous conflicts and humanitarian emergencies elsewhere. I wonder what would happen if the North Korea nuclear crisis spiralled out of control and Kim sent millions of troops over the DMZ into the ROK and popped off a few ballistic missiles in the direction of Japan. Experts estimate that the death toll could easily exceed 500,000 in the first 24-48 hours. Would this study be of any interest to people then? I doubt it.

Don on :

Stephen Moore raises some serious statistical points about the Johns Hopkins survey in the [url=http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110009108]Wall Street Journal[/url] Mr. Moore describes the 'cluster point' surveying technique used in countries without a 'critical mass' of telephones then goes on to compare the Hopkins 'survey' with other surveys done in Iraq and elsewhere. Some excerpts: "However, the key to the validity of cluster sampling is to use enough cluster points. In their 2006 report, "Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional sample survey," the Johns Hopkins team says it used 47 cluster points for their sample of 1,849 interviews. This is astonishing: I wouldn't survey a junior high school, no less an entire country, using only 47 cluster points. " This seems slightly hyperbolic. Surely 47 would be enough for a school. "Neither would anyone else. For its 2004 survey of Iraq, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) used 2,200 cluster points of 10 interviews each for a total sample of 21,688. True, interviews are expensive and not everyone has the U.N.'s bank account. However, even for a similarly sized sample, that is an extraordinarily small number of cluster points. A 2005 survey conducted by ABC News, Time magazine, the BBC, NHK and Der Spiegel used 135 cluster points with a sample size of 1,711--almost three times that of the Johns Hopkins team for 93% of the sample size." "What happens when you don't use enough cluster points in a survey? You get crazy results when compared to a known quantity, or a survey with more cluster points. There was a perfect example of this two years ago. The UNDP's survey, in April and May 2004, estimated between 18,000 and 29,000 Iraqi civilian deaths due to the war. This survey was conducted four months prior to another, earlier study by the Johns Hopkins team, which used 33 cluster points and estimated between 69,000 and 155,000 civilian deaths--four to five times as high as the UNDP survey, which used 66 times the cluster points." "Dr. Roberts said that his team's surveyors did not ask demographic questions. I was so surprised to hear this that I emailed him later in the day to ask a second time if his team asked demographic questions and compared the results to the 1997 Iraqi census. Dr. Roberts replied that he had not even looked at the Iraqi census." Hmmmmm. That seems - irresponsible.

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