Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Numbers game

This story was posted on the World Peace Herald site.
Iraqi civilian casualties

An Iraqi humanitarian organization is reporting that 128,000 Iraqis have been killed since the U.S. invasion began in March 2003.

Mafkarat al-Islam reported that chairman of the 'Iraqiyun humanitarian organization in Baghdad, Dr. Hatim al-'Alwani, said that the toll includes everyone who has been killed since that time, adding that 55 percent of those killed have been women and children aged 12 and under.

'Iraqiyun obtained data from relatives and families of the deceased, as well as from Iraqi hospitals in all the country's provinces. The 128,000 figure only includes those whose relatives have been informed of their deaths and does not include those were abducted, assassinated or simply disappeared.

The number includes those who died during the U.S. assaults on al-Fallujah and al-Qa'im. 'Iraqiyun's figures conflict with the Iraqi Body Count public database compiled by Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies. According to the Graduate Institute of International Studies' database, 39,000 Iraqis have been killed as a direct result of combat or armed violence since March 2003. No official estimates of Iraqi casualties from the war have been issued by the Pentagon, which insists that it does not do "body counts." The Washington Post on July 12 reported that U.S. military deaths in Iraq now total 1,755.
The numbers reported by 'Iraqiyun support the study published in the Lancet in October, which said the risk of death by violence for civilians in occupied Iraq [was] 58 times higher than before the US-led invasion.

The Lancet story should have been one of the biggest news stories of the year, but when it was covered at all in the mainstream press it was dismissed as "controversial" and "politicized". Yet according to an excellent overview of the issues raised by the study at The Chronicle of Higher Education, the methodology was disciplined (heroically so) and what should have been a headline-dominating finding—that there have been 100,000 violent deaths since the invasion (excluding Fallujah)—is not at all controversial.

Revisiting the Chronicle article, which was published in February, a few things stand out:
  • The Lancet study methodology was of the highest standard. "Public-health professionals have uniformly praised the paper for its correct methods and notable results.... Bradley A. Woodruff, a medical epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says 'Les [Les F. Roberts, a research associate at Hopkins and the lead author of the Lancet paper], has used, and consistently uses, the best possible methodology....'

  • Indeed, the United Nations and the U.S. State Department have cited mortality numbers compiled by Mr. Roberts on previous conflicts as fact -- and have acted on those results."

  • According to the Chronicle, "The number of deaths in Fallujah was so much higher than in other locations that the researchers excluded the data from their overall estimate as a statistical outlier"
  • According to one researcher, "If anything, the deaths may have been higher [than the study's estimate] because what they are unable to do is survey families where everyone has died."

  • Marc E. Garlasco, a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, who was quoted as saying, "These numbers seem to be inflated" when asked about the Lancet study, later said his quote was "really unfortunate."
    He says he told the reporter, "I haven't read it. I haven't seen it. I don't know anything about it, so I shouldn't comment on it." But, Mr. Garlasco continues, "Like any good journalist, he got me to."
    Mr. Garlasco ... is mystified that the Defense Department has not expressed interest in such studies. "Civilian casualties can be a bellwether for the actual conduct of the war," says Mr. Garlasco, who was an intelligence officer at the Pentagon until 2003. "They're using all these precision weapons, so one would expect that if you're striving to minimize casualties, you'd have very low casualties. In Iraq we've seen the exact opposite, so one has to wonder why."

No comments:

Blog Archive