Medical journal The Lancet last week reported the number of dead in Iraq since the 2003 invasion as 655,000. I treated this figure with suspicion upon its release. I’m no expert on statistics, but a very similar study concluded that there had been 100,000 casualties as of October 2004 (which was itself a matter of great contention). So there’s been 555,000 more deaths since then? It just doesn’t sound plausible. Couple that with the fact that Richard Horton, the editor of this publication, is a prominent anti-war campaigner who has been known to share a platform with the likes of George Galloway and other leading members of the Defend The Baathists Movement (a far more apposite name for their beliefs than the Stop The War Coalition, I feel), and my suspicion radar was very much switched on.
Now Iraq Body Count, a campaign to accurately record civilian deaths since the invasion, and by no means whatsoever a supporter of the war (hell, even Michael Moore displays their figures on his website) has issued a rebuttal to The Lancet’s findings. It makes some very interesting points:
A new study has been released by The Lancet medical journal estimating over 650,000 excess deaths in Iraq. The Iraqi mortality estimates published in The Lancet in October 2006 imply, among other things, that:
- On average, a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every single day in the first half of 2006, with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms.
- Some 800,000 or more Iraqis suffered blast wounds and other serious conflict-related injuries in the past two years, but less than a tenth of them received any kind of hospital treatment;
- Over 7% of the entire adult male population of Iraq has already been killed in violence, with no less than 10% in the worst affected areas covering most of central Iraq;
- Half a million death certificates were received by families which were never officially recorded as having been issued;
- The Coalition has killed far more Iraqis in the last year than in earlier years containing the initial massive “Shock and Awe” invasion and the major assaults on Falluja.p>
If these assertions are true, they further imply:
- incompetence and/or fraud on a truly massive scale by Iraqi officials in hospitals and ministries, on a local, regional and national level, perfectly coordinated from the moment the occupation began;
- bizarre and self-destructive behaviour on the part of all but a small minority of 800,000 injured, mostly non-combatant, Iraqis;
- the utter failure of local or external agencies to notice and respond to a decimation of the adult male population in key urban areas;
- an abject failure of the media, Iraqi as well as international, to observe that Coalition-caused events of the scale they reported during the three-week invasion in 2003 have been occurring every month for over a year.
In the light of such extreme and improbable implications, a rational alternative conclusion to be considered is that the authors have drawn conclusions from unrepresentative data. In addition, totals of the magnitude generated by this study are unnecessary to brand the invasion and occupation of Iraq a human and strategic tragedy.
Iraq Body Count currently put the actual figure somewhere between 43,937 and 48,783, which seems more realistic. Moreover, from what I understand, they employ demonstrable number gathering techniques based on a combination of reputable media coverage and eyewitness reports. This is not to say that there is some kind of ‘acceptable’ death toll in such a situation – any number of civilian deaths is too high, and the way that Iraq has been managed since the successful toppling of Saddam’s regime has meant far more innocent deaths than anyone who favoured the invasion would have been prepared to ‘tolerate’ before we went in. (For more on this subject, I recommend reading this piece by Norm.) But the findings of The Lancet don’t seem to have a shred of credibility and it has been disheartening that this release received such widespread media attention with few, if any, publications questioning the validity of the data. Their target audience is clearly those who choose to believe that our presence in Iraq is nothing but an ongoing slaughter of innocent Iraqis (in other words, most contributors on Comment Is Free) rather than the reality: that we are there now to defend the majority of Iraqis who want quaint things like a working, democratically elected government and judicial system from being slaughtered by those who, to put it mildly, do not.