Iraq: 655,000 dead?

Sarah Ferguson writes for the Village Voice, Oct. 11:

Iraqi Body Count: How Many Is Too Many?

Has the U.S. “liberation” of Iraq succeeded in tripling the death rate for people there? That’s the conclusion of new study published today by the British medical journal Lancet, which estimates a staggering 655,000 Iraqis (civilians and fighters) have died as a result of the 2003 invasion.

That’s more than twice the 290,000 humans that Saddam Hussein is said to have killed during his 25-year reign.

It’s also a far cry from the roughly 48,000 civilian deaths reported by the independent British group Iraq Body Count, the 50,000 casualties estimated by the Iraqi Health Ministry in June, or the 75,000 suggested by analysts at the Brookings Institution (which includes Iraqi troops and insurgents)—let alone the figure of 30,000 civilians that the Bush administration recently cited.

Considering the controversy sparked by these same researchers in their last survey of Iraqi dead published in Lancet, expect this one to get raked over the coals, too.

At a news conference today, President Bush quickly proclaimed the new findings not “credible,” while a spokesperson for the American-backed Iraqi government called them “exaggerated” and “unbelievable.”

But the Iraqi Health Ministry also reported today that more than 2,660 Iraqi civilians were killed in Baghdad alone in September—an increase of 400 since August.

This new study, conducted by a team of Iraqi doctors and American researchers with the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, is based on random polling of 1,849 Iraqi families, rather than data culled from the Pentagon, Iraq’s morgues, and news reports—which is how IBC and others have factored casualties.

It’s the same kind of “cluster sampling” that U.S. officials have encouraged rights groups to use to tally civilian deaths in places like Darfur, the Congo, and Kosovo.

But that’s also the methodology employed in American exit polls—and we all know how indisputable those are.

Maybe the Johns Hopkins researchers can take a break from Iraq this November and come count Democratic voters in the U.S.

They might uncover a few more of those, too.

See our last post on Iraq. See also our last report on the numbers controversy.