Friday, October 13, 2006


By Nancy Jane Moore.

655,000. That's how many Iraqis have died of war-related causes since the US invaded. 601,000 died directly from violence; the other 54,000 died from illnesses related to the war.

These numbers are from a sophisticated statistical study by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. Iraqi physicians did the interviews. Their work has been subjected to a thorough peer-review and published in The Lancet, the premier British medical journal. The Lancet thought this article was so important that they published it in full online at no charge (you will need to register).

The numbers are an estimate, of course. And, due to the violence in Iraq, there were constraints on the statistical study that wouldn't happen in calmer venues. Allowing for errors, the researchers said the total war-related deaths could range from 392,979 - 942,636.

These are horrifying numbers, hard to even comprehend, way larger than any others we've seen (the usual figure these days is around 50,000), and considerably in excess of the number of deaths attributed to Saddam Hussein. Numbers like this make denials that Iraq is in a civil war look ludicrous. And you can't look at them without starting to think that prosecutions for war crimes might be in the offing.

So why have the major media downplayed the story? The Washington Post's initial story ran on page A-12 and was hard to find online, though at least the comments on the study were balanced. The Los Angeles Times -- whose online article was also hard to find -- primarily ran comments from critics of the study. The Boston Globe gave it a mostly positive spin, but called it a "disputed study" in the headline.

Predictably, Bush, Tony Blair, and the Iraqi government dismissed the study out of hand -- in fact, Blair said the number was wrong and most deaths were due to "terrorists." Those stories got better play than the initial one about the study.

Here's the difference between the authors of the study and Bush, Blair, and the Iraqi government: The scientists don't have a horse in this race. Unlike Bush and company, who have every incentive to downplay the incredible damage done to Iraqis, the scientists were just looking for information.

And unlike their critics, they've done a real analysis and let other experts -- people who understand how statistics work -- review it in detail. I'm not particularly impressed by top-of-the-head rejections of the work from people who clearly didn't have the time to do a full-scale review of the study. And I'm really not impressed by comments from politicians who are not likely to understand statistical analysis in the first place.

Reputable sources find the numbers all too credible. Juan Cole says:
Ironically enough, the same journalists who will question this study will accept without query the estimates for deaths in Darfur, e.g., which are generated by exactly the same techniques, and which are almost certainly not as solid. ...
I follow the violence in Iraq carefully and daily, and I find the results plausible.

It's such a scary number that I'd like to think they're wrong. But I'm very afraid that they're not. Just think of how much suffering those deaths caused, not just to the deceased, but also to their family members and their friends. That's more than 200 times as many people killed as died on September 11, more than 200 times the number of dead US soldiers.

Bush's response wasn't just an ignorant dismissal of the study; he also commented:
I'm amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they're willing to -- you know, that there's a level of violence that they tolerate.
Will Umber on posted that quote and used terms like "arrogant" and "clueless" to analyze it. He also made this observation:
But it's amazing what people can tolerate, when it's 11,000 miles away and it's happening to somebody else.
Whatever the number is -- and no matter how many deaths were at the hands of those Blair calls "terrorists" -- these deaths are on our heads. It was the US government that started this unnecessary war, pretending it was payback for September 11 when they knew damn well Iraq had nothing to do with the attack on us.

655,000 people have died in our name.


Blue Girl, Red State said...

The numbers are statistically sound. Should anyone deny the validity of cluster sampling that is the method used to obtain the US census, and nobody is claiming our head-count is off by a factor of five or six.

And by the way, The Lancet is the gold standard of professional journals. Only a buffoon would dismiss a study published by them out-of-hand.

Yes. I just called the president a buffoon, and I stand by that assessment.

Anonymous said...


Using the “Death Card” as your graphic was inspired. All the fear and connotations that the “Death” card evokes are so appropriate.

The onus of all those deaths must be on the United States. However, I believe that 95% of the blame must fall squarely on the heads of the Bush Administration. Every step they took has been predicated on a BIG LIE.

That said, the concept of all those deaths just sickens me. All those human beings just “gone”. We disappeared their existence. Let’s not let the Bush Administration “disappear” accountability.

The following is from my blog on BLUE GIRL/RED STATE (it’s even more apropos here):
You have to know the stink’s going to get worse. It’s like uncovering a dead body: the more you expose it, the more it smells. Reminds me of the song by Lynyrd Skynyrd, “That Smell” (1977) --
“Oh, that smell. Can’t you smell that smell. The smell of death’s all around you.”

Bill said...

I understand your anger about these statistics. I think it is fair, and it is unfortunate that the President wants to dismiss this study. However it is important to understand what the statistic really means. It means that the living conditions in Iraq since the war has resulted in 655,000 more deaths than occurred in the previous years with Saddam. It's horrible indeed, but I think alot of estimates use violent deaths to assign responsibility. However, the severely ineffective reconstruction of Iraq and civil unrest is certain the promoting cause of these substantial numbers. It would be interesting to issue a parallel study regarding our own nation.