Iraq’s ‘Excess’ Death Toll 655,000
A new study has found that there have been 655,000 more deaths in Iraq since the war started than would otherwise have occured.
A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred. The estimate, produced by interviewing residents during a random sampling of households throughout the country, is far higher than ones produced by other groups, including Iraq’s government.
It is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech in December. It is more than 10 times the estimate of roughly 50,000 civilian deaths made by the British-based Iraq Body Count research group.
The surveyors said they found a steady increase in mortality since the invasion, with a steeper rise in the last year that appears to reflect a worsening of violence as reported by the U.S. military, the news media and civilian groups. In the year ending in June, the team calculated Iraq’s mortality rate to be roughly four times what it was the year before the war.
Of the total 655,000 estimated “excess deaths,” 601,000 resulted from violence and the rest from disease and other causes, according to the study. This is about 500 unexpected violent deaths per day throughout the country.
I’ll let others comment on the study methodology; I simply have no idea how one might best go about determine the number of dead absent good recordkeeping and with many having an incentive to lie. I have a few thoughts about the reported findings, though.
Contrary to how NPR (and presumably others) are reporting the story, this is not simply a list of “civilian casualties,” which is what the other estimates are. These are people who have died from any cause, whether directly related to the war or not.
Further, it’s hardly surprising that a country at war has more deaths than it did prior to the war, even if there was ongoing violence before the war. The American Civil War, for example, ended the oppression of slavery but at a bloody up-front cost.
It would be interesting to see a better breakdown of the numbers. Most of the violent deaths are coming from gunshot wounds and car bombs, which would seem to indicate that they’re mostly being caused by the “bad guys” rather than Coalition forces.
Update (Steve Verdon): Since my day job is basically statistics I thought a comment by Charles Austin was worth mentioning. If this 655,000 number is valid it means that the average number of deaths since March 20, 2003 would have to be 503. Now, that is the average, and we’d expect the actual number of deaths to move around that. Further, based on the article James has linked to, the number of deaths has been increasing (in statistics we’d call this a non-stationary time series). So, if all of this is true, then we’d expect to see some days where the number of deaths well exceeds 1,000. It might even be conceivable that there are as many as 2,000 dead on a single day. Such a death toll strikes me as being rather news worthy, but we haven’t heard such news (at least that I know of). Maybe it is becuase Iraq is quite chaotic and that these deaths are distributed all around Iraq. However, it still seems like an astronomical number of deaths to go completely unnoticed, which is sort of implied by this research. Furhter, given that other research indicates much lower numbers, I think it quite reasonable and appropriate to take this study not with a grain of salt, but a shovel.
Update II (Steve Verdon): The study can be found here. One thing that is interesting is that if we use the crude mortality figure on page 4 of 19.8 per 1,000 for June 2005 to June 2006 and calculate the average number of deaths per day we get 944 deaths per day. As I noted above, this would indicate that we could have days were the number of deaths is considerably higher, so the 2,000 deaths on a given day is pretty likely.