Iraq: Civilian War Deaths

Phyllis Gardner writes:I find it fascinating that, despite the horrific news coming from Iraq, that we can sit and debate that the death rates of civilians reported by highly respected statisticians in highly respectable journals does not meet the standards of people who do not have a clue about the science. This is just obfuscation.

 Everyday, I ask, what are they (the anti-intellects?) thinking now?  It is a quagmire.  There is no good outcome.

 What do they think? Take a good look at Fallujah. 

Peter Orne writes: Thank you for posting this retort by Phyllis Gardner. There is a disposition at WAIS not to offend Randy Black, who clearly marshals every possible factoid to support his right-wing opinions. The world has globalized; it is now simply passe to sit back and muse on the fates of thousands and millions of people (often the destitute and disempowered) and national destinies when you can e-mail today’s victims of history in a heartbeat, see a digital photo shot of their daily experience almost anywhere. The experience of empathizing and understanding firsthand is far more powerful and personal than aloof surmisings and bullet barrages of data points from all manner of Web sites.

Paul Pitlick writes: Bravo to Dr. Gardner for her analysis, and use of the word "obfuscation."  The Bushies live in a binary world.  In this case, the thought process goes:  "Anyone who accepts the analysis of 100,000 civilian deaths in Iraq is clearly anti-American."  There are, of course many other ways of looking at it.  Let's accept the argument that 100,000 is too high.  Maybe it's "only" 15,000.  What is an acceptable level of civilian deaths - recognizing the some of them are, no doubt "insurgents" (of course when folks do the things like the Iraqi insurgents have done for "our" side, like Nicaragua in the 1980's, they're called "patriots")? 50,000?, 20,000? 10,000?  When a war isn't legitimate in the first place, I would hope that everyone would agree that the proper number is zero.  I won't make the case here that the Iraq war was/is illegitimate, but I did feel in February, 2003 that it would be unwinnable  (using precedents like the US in Veitnam, Russia in Afghanistan, Russia in Chechnya, France in Algeria, 50 years in the state of Israel, etc.), and so far my track record of analysis is better than George Bush's and/or the Pentagon.   So it gets down to  "Who do you believe is the more credible source of information - Lancet or the US military/industrial/political establishment?" 
 i was in southern Russia when the current Iraq war began, and my only source of English-speaking news in one of my hotels was the BBC.  After a briefing by an American general, one of the British correspondents stood up and asked him why we should believe anything he had just said.  Cheeky lad, I thought.  That was a substantively different approach from what I saw after I returned home in the American media , which, much to their subsequent chagrin, questioned nothing.

General Michael Sullivan writes: This is a part of a longer article out of the Washington Times (12/1/04).  It deals with biased reporting in several areas.  This is another analysis of the British medical journal study that reported  100,000 Iraqis killed since the war started.: Or how about the constantly cited figure of 100,000 Iraqis killed by
Americans since the war began, a statistic that is thrown about with total and irresponsible abandon by opponents of the war. That number, which should be disputed at every turn by those who care about the truth of what is going on in Iraq was derived from a controversial study by the British journal of medicine the Lancet. It is five to six times higher than the highest estimates from other sources of all Iraqi deaths, be they military or civilian. The Lancet study relied on reporting of deaths self-reported by 998 families from clusters of 33 households throughout Iraq, a very limited sample from which to generalize. 

RH: I take no position on this. The Lancet is a serious journal. The Washington Times is very conservative and pro-war, but its sources are usually good.

Regarding civilian war deaths in Iraq, Randy Black writes: Dr. Gardner may not be aware of the post election revelations regarding the persons who conducted the survey (post publication), nor of the facts regarding how the surveyors came to their conclusions. Note: I am not saying that Ms. Gardner is incorrect, only that there appears to be more to the story. The entire report may be true, but then again, it may not be, and certainly, the editor admitted that he was attempting to influence the election.
      Contrary to Ms. Gardner’s post that the report was not rushed to publication, the Lancet’s editor stated that the survey was conducted by only SEVEN persons, in only 30 days (September) and in 30 communities out of a nation of 25 million, and published less than 30 days later, half a world away, and bypassed the normal review procedures.  I am only providing facts that are easily available on the internet. Facts such as: The surveyors stated that they did not ask for proof of various reported deaths, so as to not insult those interviewed. That puzzles me.

      The editor stated that the issue was “rushed” to publication, bypassing normal review processes to insure that the public was informed prior to the election, aka, for political purposes. "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 (Tuesday) U.S. presidential election".
Source: International Herald Tribune -
      Factually, the publication did not follow their normal review process, and certainly no rigorous peer review process could possibly have occurred in only a few weeks, knowing what little I know about university review processes. Question: Can any WAISer imagine such an important issue at a multiple-university level being conceived, funded, carried out, reviewed, edited, approved and published in such a short time frame?

      The authors of the report even admitted that some of the dead may have been “insurgents.”  Source: ibid.

      Methodology: The researchers randomly selected 33 clusters of 30 households each for interviews by (7) Iraqi researchers working with the Johns Hopkins team (over 30 days). Some houses were empty, and a few declined to talk. In the end, the researchers interviewed 808 households. Source:

RH: Given the circumstances in which they had to work, the investigators seem to have exercised all possible care.

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Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: December 5, 2004