100,000 Iraqi Civilian Dead Since US Invasion? Who is Right?


Jon Kofas writes:On 28 October 2004, Emma Ross, AP Medical writer, reported from London that according to one household survey 100,000 more have died in Iraq than would be expected based on the death rate before the U.S. invasion. The unofficial estimates of Iraqi "war casualties" range from 10,000 to 30,000. In a recent response to my views on the costs of war and "terrorism", Istvan  Simon argued that "terrorists" deliberately target civilians, whereas the armies kill civilians as "collateral damage" which is only to be expected.  If we take the long view of history, we see that the ultimate terrorist machine, the ultimate machine of destruction is the state, not groups of people organized against the state. While there is no doubt that acts of political violence by groups organized against the state may be abhorrent, destructive, and futile as they do often target civilians, there is also no comparison between the hundreds of millions killed in the name of the state, versus the thousands killed by unconventional means in guerrilla or other unconventional warfare that may include civilian targets.  Why do societies honor mass killings and justify them in the name of patriotism, but condemn the same acts on a much smaller scale when carried out by unconventional means? Both Gregory of Tours who wrote the History of the Franks and Einhard who was Charlemagne's biographer justified war only when carried out in the name of expanding Christendom, but they strongly condemned it when the Norsemen (Vikings) Saracens (Muslims) or the barbarians from the East carried out the same acts as Clovis and Charlemagne. The medieval Christian doubled standard is with us to this day, and regrettably even among people who have the capacity to reason and know for a fact that it is wrong to engage in such hypocrisy in the name of civilization and at the expense of humanity.

RH:  It would be interesting to compare what Gregory of Tours and Einhard actually said with the Christian theory of just war.

Professor Phyllis Gardner of Stanford Medical School writes: Obviously, Randy Black is not an epidemiologist/statistician.  Any of us can argue about a discipline, but one cannot presume to know more about the technology of the discipline than those in it.  The article was done by reputable scientists, peer-reviewed in a rigorous fashion, before publication in a highly regarded medical journal.

Randy Black says:I wonder if  Phyllis Gardner read the entire article as I did. She might have noticed some obviously issues that her brief post does not address. The report does not state as facts, very much. It is mostly unscientific speculation. The facts surrounding the political timing of the story include:
 
More than 100,000 civilians have probably died in Iraq as direct or indirect consequences of the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.. …Editors of the journal decided not to wait for Lancet's normal publication date next week, but instead to place the research online Friday, apparently so it could circulate before the U.S. presidential election.
 
Families were interviewed about births and deaths in the household before and after the invasion….Iraqis were 2.5 times more likely to die in the 17 months following the invasion than in the 14 months before it. Before the invasion, the most common causes of death in Iraq were heart attacks, strokes and chronic diseases. Afterward, violent death was far ahead of all other causes…
 
"I am emotionally shocked, but I have no trouble in believing that this many people have been killed," said Scott Lipscomb, an associate professor at Northwestern University, who works on a Web site called www.iraqbodycount.net. That project, which collates only media-reported deaths, currently put the maximum death toll at just under 17,000. "We've always maintained that the actual count must be much higher," Lipscomb said.
 
Although the teams relied primarily on interviews with local residents, they also requested to see at least two death certificates at the end of interviews in each area, to try to ensure that people had remembered and responded honestly. The research team decided that asking for death certificates in each case, during the interviews, might cause hostility and could put the research team in danger.
 
Some of those killed may have been insurgents, not true civilians, the authors noted. Also, the rise in mortality included a rise in murders and some deaths attributable to the deterioration of medical care. "But the majority of excess mortality is clearly due to violence," Burnham said.
 
Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, is acerbic and to the point about its message. The paper was received in October, but it was peer-reviewed and edited at top speed because of its political importance. "From a purely public health perspective it is clear that whatever planning did take place was grievously in error," Horton wrote. "The invasion of Iraq, the displacement of a cruel dictator and the attempt to impose a liberal democracy by force have, by themselves, been insufficient to bring peace and security to the civilian population. Democratic imperialism has led to more deaths, not fewer."
 
In their paper, Roberts and his colleagues are extremely critical of the Bush administration and the U.S. Army for not releasing estimates of civilian deaths. The study was conducted in four weeks with seven teams across a war zone in a country of 25 million and the size of California? I don’t thing so. The study was not scientifically validated by their own admission. The study is full of words and phrases such as “probably, may have and we did not ask for death certificates because we  did not want to insult anyone. “ The publication admits that they rushed the report through editorial reviews in order to publish it two days before the Presidential election so as to impact voting. Death certificates were not examined, other than two, and the editor specifically stated that many of the dead were criminals or insurgents. The report is in direct conflict with at least one other college website at Northwestern.

RH: Clearly those oppose to the Iraq war tend to believe the high figures for Iraqi civilian casualties, those who support the war try to discredit them.

Your comments are invited. Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on:   http://wais.stanford.edu Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004

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last updated: November 25, 2004