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.

Scientists estimate 100,000 Iraqis may have died in war far more than previous estimates (AP)

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?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    Your points are well taken. But given the number of mass graves we’re finding, I would suggest that the price is well paid.

    The Iraqi people would seem to agree, if we take the polling their with any seriousness.

    And your final question is the biggest, and one the anti-war types dare not answer, lest they be called to follow JFK’s lead on paying any price, carry any burden’.

  2. vdibart says:

    “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.”

    The number does seem exorbidant, I’ll admit, and the process wasn’t exactly the most fool-proof I’ve ever heard. But even 10K lives lost is a disgrace, and here’s why the “precision” you mention above is really not the issue. There was a story reported before Saddam was caught about a car that was fleeing to the Syrian border, and it was fired upon because intelligence indicated that Saddam might be in it. Obviously he wasn’t, but the point is that there were people in that car that were killed seemingly without cause. All those times when we fire on a “suspected” safehouse might not be that different for all we know. So all the precision in the world doesn’t matter if your intelligence is weak.

    And by the way, I’m utterly appalled that *any* American would consider 100K lives lost a price “well paid”. It’s almost too absurd to comment on. These are innocent men, women, and children. In a country that prides ourselves on our moral clarity, how can you so easily justify the deaths of so many people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

  3. Bill says:

    Historically the only way to hold Iraq together has been through force of arms. It is quite possible that our puppet will stage sham elections followed by a strongman rule.

    Our interests are not served by a Shite majority rule which is what would happen if it was one man one vote. That would be like turning the country over to Iran.
    Since it won’t be one man one vote, (and that is what makes the vote a sham) we have to figure a way it won’t be majority rule. Kind of like Israel if they would ever let the Palestinians return.
    Turkey will invade the Kurds if they create their own state. We have no choice but to keep Iraq whole.

    Saddam’s excesses have been well documented. What if that’s the only way to hold this country together? What if the new boss is the same as the old boss? After all Saddam was a big ally for many years. What we have done is to have seen the enemy and he is us.

  4. LJD says:

    Who says these are “innocent” men, women, and children (other than this obviously flawed interview)?

    If you read the papers, it seems every live “citizen” in Iraq is an insurgent fighting to defend their country. When they die as a result of their action, they automatically become an “innocent”.

    I’m not denying any non-combatant deaths, but if you add them up like bodycount web does, there are serious flaws inthe numbers.

  5. IR says:

    Compare this study to the one Dr. Roberts did in the Congo. You will note that the Congo study is much, much more thorough…

    Conclusion…Dr. Roberts is not done (by any stretch of the imagination) with this particular study. But, damn if he didn’t need to get it in the papers 4 days prior to the General Election…Uh huh…

  6. Anjin-San says:

    Ahh so we have re-branded the war again. Now its about stopping Saddams attrocities. Funny Bush told the American people it was about WMD;s. Does that mean he was….. lying?

  7. Foobarista says:

    This silly report has been getting fisked across the blogosphere.

  8. zz says:

    I find this unlikely. Such a large number of deaths due to airstrikes seems unlikely. To produce this many deaths would require a much larger amount of ordance dropped exclusively into populated areas. The number of people who died. Given that precision use of less ordance was involved, it seems unlikely that airstrikes killed that many civilians.