[DEBATE] : Lancet: 655,000 Iraqi war dead
MFleshman at aol.com
MFleshman at aol.com
Wed Oct 11 12:35:21 BST 2006
Study Claims Iraq's 'Excess' Death Toll Has Reached 655,000
By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 11, 2006; A12
A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more
people have died in _Iraq_
(http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/world/countries/iraq.html?nav=el) since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would
have died if the invasion had not occurred.
The estimate, produced by interviewing residents during a random sampling of
households throughout the country, is far higher than ones produced by other
groups, including Iraq's government.
It is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that
President Bush gave in a speech in December. It is more than 10 times the estimate
of roughly 50,000 civilian deaths made by the British-based Iraq Body Count
The surveyors said they found a steady increase in mortality since the
invasion, with a steeper rise in the last year that appears to reflect a worsening
of violence as reported by the U.S. military, the news media and civilian
groups. In the year ending in June, the team calculated Iraq's mortality rate
to be roughly four times what it was the year before the war.
Of the total 655,000 estimated "excess deaths," 601,000 resulted from
violence and the rest from disease and other causes, according to the study. This
is about 500 unexpected violent deaths per day throughout the country.
The survey was done by Iraqi physicians and overseen by epidemiologists at
Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. The findings are
being published online today by the British medical journal the Lancet.
The same group in 2004 published an estimate of roughly 100,000 deaths in the
first 18 months after the invasion. That figure was much higher than
expected, and was controversial. The new study estimates that about 500,000 more
Iraqis, both civilian and military, have died since then -- a finding likely to
be equally controversial.
Both this and the earlier study are the only ones to estimate mortality in
Iraq using scientific methods. The technique, called "cluster sampling," is
used to estimate mortality in famines and after natural disasters.
While acknowledging that the estimate is large, the researchers believe it is
sound for numerous reasons. The recent survey got the same estimate for
immediate post-invasion deaths as the early survey, which gives the researchers
confidence in the methods. The great majority of deaths were also
substantiated by death certificates.
"We're very confident with the results," said Gilbert Burnham, a Johns
Hopkins physician and epidemiologist.
A Defense Department spokesman did not comment directly on the estimate.
"The Department of Defense always regrets the loss of any innocent life in
Iraq or anywhere else," said Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros. "The coalition takes
enormous precautions to prevent civilian deaths and injuries."
He added that "it would be difficult for the U.S. to precisely determine the
number of civilian deaths in Iraq as a result of insurgent activity. The
Iraqi Ministry of Health would be in a better position, with all of its records,
to provide more accurate information on deaths in Iraq."
Ronald Waldman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who worked at the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for many years, called the survey
method "tried and true," and added that "this is the best estimate of mortality
This viewed was echoed by Sarah Leah Whitson, an official of Human Rights
Watch in New York, who said, "We have no reason to question the findings or the
accuracy" of the survey.
"I expect that people will be surprised by these figures," she said. "I think
it is very important that, rather than questioning them, people realize
there is very, very little reliable data coming out of Iraq."
The survey was conducted between May 20 and July 10 by eight Iraqi physicians
organized through Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. They visited 1,849
randomly selected households that had an average of seven members each. One
person in each household was asked about deaths in the 14 months before the
invasion and in the period after.
The interviewers asked for death certificates 87 percent of the time; when
they did, more than 90 percent of households produced certificates.
According to the survey results, Iraq's mortality rate in the year before the
invasion was 5.5 deaths per 1,000 people; in the post-invasion period it was
13.3 deaths per 1,000 people per year. The difference between these rates
was used to calculate "excess deaths."
Of the 629 deaths reported, 87 percent occurred after the invasion. A little
more than 75 percent of the dead were men, with a greater male preponderance
after the invasion. For violent post-invasion deaths, the male-to-female
ratio was 10-to-1, with most victims between 15 and 44 years old.
Gunshot wounds caused 56 percent of violent deaths, with car bombs and other
explosions causing 14 percent, according to the survey results. Of the
violent deaths that occurred after the invasion, 31 percent were caused by
coalition forces or airstrikes, the respondents said.
Burnham said that the estimate of Iraq's pre-invasion death rate -- 5.5
deaths per 1,000 people -- found in both of the Hopkins surveys was roughly the
same estimate used by the CIA and the U.S. Census Bureau. He said he believes
that attests to the accuracy of his team's results.
He thinks further evidence of the survey's robustness is that the steepness
of the upward trend it found in excess deaths in the last two years is roughly
the same tendency found by other groups -- even though the actual numbers
An independent group of researchers and biostatisticians based in England
produces the Iraq Body Count. It estimates that there have been 44,000 to 49,000
civilian deaths since the invasion. An Iraqi nongovernmental organization
estimated 128,000 deaths between the invasion and July 2005.
The survey cost about $50,000 and was paid for by Massachusetts Institute of
Technology's Center for International Studies.
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
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