Did 100,000 civilians die in the Iraq invasion?
The invasion of Iraq in March 2003 by coalition forces has lead to the death of at least 100,000 civilians, reveals the first scientific study to examine the issue.
The majority of these deaths, which are in addition those normally expected from natural causes, illness and accidents, have been among women and children, finds the study, released early by The Lancet on Thursday.
The most common cause of death is as a direct result of violence, mostly caused by coalition air strikes, reveals the study of almost 1000 households scattered across Iraq. And the risk of violent death just after the invasion was 58 times greater than before the war. The overall risk of death was 1.5 times more after the invasion than before.
The figure of 100,000 is based on “conservative assumptions”, notes Les Roberts at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, US, who led the study.
That estimate excludes Falluja, a hotspot for violence. If the data from this town is included, the study points to about 200,000 excess deaths since the outbreak of war.
The New Republic’s Iraq’d blog has an interview with one of the authors.
Obviously, this is out of line with most other estimates. This one is a scientific survey, which lends it credibility, but my main problem is this: we didn’t bomb the entire country. We bombed certain places, places with strategic value. This is corrected for somewhat, but I’m not sure enough was done:
The methods we used here is what’s known as a cluster survey. Basically, what we do with this is: Every household in Iraq has an equal chance of being selected for the survey. That’s the basic principle of any serious sampling. Then we choose at random, and the way we did this is we chose 33 clusters–a cluster would be a location or, as we say in the paper, a neighborhood–and we select these at random and we list basically all of the provinces, or governorates in the case of Iraq, and then all the communities within the governorates. They’re all listed according to their population size. So the first stage is to choose the governorates in which to carry out the sample. The second stage is to choose the location within the governorate that is to be sampled. So for instance, in Iraq, Baghdad, which has a huge population, would end up with more clusters than, say, another governorate with a small population. So there’s a probability of getting sampled if you’re in Baghdad–Baghdad’s going to have a number of clusters, where some other places may not. Then the next level is to pick out the actual population center, a village, town, city, whatever. Then the third stage is to actually find out which place to start your sampling process.
This accounts for some of it. Population centers are more likely to be bombed. But I don’t think it was just more likely that we bombed population centers, that’s really all we bombed. And we didn’t bomb at all in Kurdistan, I think, so you can’t extrapolate including that population. It seems to me that a better way to do this study would be to find the general area of our assaults, determine the population in that area, randomly sample that area, and extrapolate.
However, it’s hard for me to believe this didn’t come up in peer-review (which was extensive, according to TNR’s interview). Another thing that bothers me is this:
IRAQ’D: Did anyone you interviewed identify their deceased relative as an insurgent? Did you ask for that?
BURNHAM: We did not specifically ask for that.
It’s possible that a number of insurgents are skewing the survey.
I’ll have to look at this closer a bit later.