Iraq Body Count Looks at the Latest Lancet Study
A few days ago James posted about the latest Lancet study on the number of excess deaths due to the Iraq war. Now the Iraq Body Count has released some interesting comments about the study. Overall, the main conclusion seems to be that one should be cautious about the results of this new study.
However, our view is that there is considerable cause for scepticism regarding the estimates in the latest study, not least because of a very different conclusion reached by another random household survey, the ILCS, using a comparable method but a considerably better-distributed and much larger sample. This latter study gave a much lower estimate for violent deaths up until April 2004, despite that period being associated with the smallest number of observed deaths in the latest Lancet study.
Also, it is pointed out that the agreement between the latest Lancet study and the most recent is somewhat exaggerated.
Additionally, claims that the two Lancet studies confirm each other’s estimates are overstated. Both the violent and non-violent post-invasion death estimates are actually quite different in the two studies.
The press release also has five implications regarding the latest study that Iraq Body Count considers somewhat anomalous.
The first is as I pointed out the sheer magnitude of the numbers for the latter period in the study.
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.
If the Lancet extrapolation is sound, this would imply a further 920 violent deaths every day (1000 minus 80) which have been recorded by neither officials nor the media. As these are averages, some days would see many more deaths, and others substantially fewer, but in either case, all of them would remain unnoticed.
If we consider the Lancet’s June 2005 — June 2006 period, whose violent toll it estimates at 330,000, then daily estimates become lower but would still require 768 unrecorded violent deaths for every 67 that are recorded. The IBC database shows that the average number of people killed in any one violent attack is five. Therefore it would require about 150 unreported, average-size, violent assaults per day to account for 768 deaths.
One possible way of explaining such a very large number of small-scale unreported assaults is to suppose that many of these are the result of “secret” killings which have resulted from abduction, execution by gunfire, or beheading. But 42% of the 330,000 Lancet-estimated violent deaths in this final 13-month period are ascribed to “explosives/ordnance”, car bombs, or air strikes, all of which carry a fairly heavy and hardly ‘secret’ toll (and will generally create at least 3 times as many wounded).
Lancet estimates 150 people to have died from car bombs alone, on average, every day during June 2005-June 2006. IBC’s database of deadly car bomb incidents shows they kill 7-8 people on average. Lancet’s estimate corresponds to about 20 car bombs per day, all but one or two of which fail to be reported by the media. Yet car bombs fall well within the earlier-mentioned category of incidents which average 6 unique reports on them.
This implication was the first thing that caught my attention. That large numbers of people would have to be killed and at the same time it would have to be virtually unreported.
The other implications are,
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Half a million death certificates were received by families which were never officially recorded as having been issued.
5. 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.
To me all of these do not help the case of the Lancet study. When the official number of death certificates turns out to about 50,000 and the Lancet study is claiming 11 times that number some alarms should be going off somewhere about a possible problem with the data.
Now it is possible that all of these factors are true and that the Lancet study is quite correct in terms of its estimates. However, this suggests that there is extremely widespread corruption in Iraq when it comes to death certificates. Which leads us to wonder what value producing a death certificate is when it comes to studies like the Lancet study. That the media is ignoring or ignorant of the vast majority of attacks in Iraq.
And lest anyone think that Iraq Body Count is shilling for the hawks/stay the course crowd, consider this quote,
Do the American people need to believe that 600,000 Iraqis have been killed before they can turn to their leaders and say “enough is enough”? The number of certain civilian deaths that has been documented to a basic standard of corroboration by “passive surveillance methods” surely already provides all the necessary evidence to deem this invasion and occupation an utter failure at all levels.
On 9/11 3,000 people were violently killed in attacks on the USA. Those events etched themselves into the soul of every American, and reverberated around the world. In December 2005 President George Bush acknowledged 30,000 known Iraqi violent deaths in a country one tenth the size of the USA. That is already a death toll 100 times greater in its impact on the Iraqi nation than 9/11 was on the USA. That there are more deaths that have not yet come to light is certain, but if a change in policy is needed, the catastrophic roll-call of the already known dead is more than ample justification for that change.
The bottomline is that one should be cautious about accepting the numbers in the Lancet study. Now, that doesn’t mean the everything in Iraq is fine or that the Bush Administration is handling the situation correctly.