Report: 100,000 Iraqi Civilians Dead Since Invasion
100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, says study (Guardian)
About 100,000 Iraqi civilians – half of them women and children – have died in Iraq since the invasion, mostly as a result of airstrikes by coalition forces, according to the first reliable study of the death toll from Iraqi and US public health experts. The study, which was carried out in 33 randomly-chosen neighbourhoods of Iraq representative of the entire population, shows that violence is now the leading cause of death in Iraq. Before the invasion, most people died of heart attacks, stroke and chronic illness. The risk of a violent death is now 58 times higher than it was before the invasion.
Last night the Lancet medical journal fast-tracked the survey to publication on its website after rapid, but extensive peer review and editing because, said Lancet editor Richard Horton, “of its importance to the evolving security situation in Iraq”. But the findings raised important questions also for the governments of the United Sates and Britain who, said Dr Horton in a commentary, “must have considered the likely effects of their actions for civilians”.
The research was led by Les Roberts of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. Five of the six Iraqi interviewers who went to the 988 households in the survey were doctors and all those involved in the research on the ground, says the paper, risked their lives to collect the data. Householders were asked about births and deaths in the 14.6 months before the March 2003 invasion, and births and deaths in the 17.8 months afterwards. When death certificates were not available, there were good reasons, say the authors. “We think it is unlikely that deaths were falsely recorded. Interviewers also believed that in the Iraqi culture it was unlikely for respondents to fabricate deaths,” they write. They found an increase in infant mortality from 29 to 57 deaths per 1,000 live births, which is consistent with the pattern in wars, where women are unable or unwilling to get to hospital to deliver babies, they say. The other increase was in violent death, which was reported in 15 of the 33 clusters studied and which was mostly attributed to airstrikes.
“Despite widespread Iraqi casualties, household interview data do not show evidence of widespread wrongdoing on the part of individual soldiers on the ground,” write the researchers. Only three of the 61 deaths involved coalition soldiers killing Iraqis with small arms fire. In one case, a 56-year-old man might have been a combatant, they say, in the second a 72-year-old man was shot at a checkpoint and in the third, an armed guard was mistaken for a combatant and shot during a skirmish. In the second two cases, American soldiers apologised to the families.
A survey of deaths in Iraqi households estimates that as many as 100,000 more people may have died throughout the country in the 18 months since the U.S.-led invasion than would be expected based on the death rate before the war. There is no official figure for the number of Iraqis killed since the conflict began, but some non-governmental estimates range from 10,000 to 30,000. As of Wednesday, 1,081 U.S. servicemen had been killed, according to the U.S. Defense Department.
The scientists who wrote the report concede that the data they based their projections on were of ”limited precision,” because the quality of the information depends on the accuracy of the household interviews used for the study. The interviewers were Iraqi, most of them doctors.
Designed and conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, the study was released to journalists and was expected to be published Thursday on the Web site of The Lancet medical journal. The survey indicated violence accounted for most of the extra deaths seen since the invasion, and airstrikes from coalition forces caused most of the violent deaths, the researchers wrote in the British-based journal. ”Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children,” they said.
The report was released just days before the U.S. presidential election, and the lead researcher said he wanted it that way. The Lancet routinely publishes papers on the Web before they appear in print, particularly if it considers the findings of urgent public health interest.
I’m a bit skeptical of these figures, not only because the researchers were rather obviously politically motivated. Most obviously, the figures from Saddam’s regime–as with any authoritarian government– are notoriously unreliable. Not only is accurate recordkeeping seldom a priority in such societies but, presumably, Saddam wasn’t publishing records of people massacred by the Mukhabarat, his secret police, or political prisoners who died in his prisons. Further, contrary to the assertions of the researchers, of course people have an incentive to lie about civilian casualties. If nothing else, the Coalition will likely compensate them without much show of proof. And, of course, inflating the figures of civilian casualties obviously serves the cause of the insurgency. I also simply do not believe that the greatest cause of death to civilians has been Coalition air strikes, given their incredible precision and the indiscriminate violence of the terrorist elements.
More importantly, even if the situation before a war is horrible–as it certainly was in Saddam’s Iraq–it’s hardly surprising that the war itself creates an escalation in innocent deaths. That’s virtually always the case. Surely, fewer people died as a result of slavery from 1855-1859 than from the Civil War from 1860-1865. Certainly, the six million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust are a fraction of the total losses incurred from World War Two. The public policy implications 0f this escape me. Should we let attrocities continue because war will be even worse in the short term?