The Number
March 7, 2007 10:32 PM   Subscribe

Whatever one's opinion of its possible limitations, the 2006 Iraq mortality survey produced epidemiological evidence that coalition forces have failed to protect Iraqi civilians... If, for the sake of argument, the study is wrong and the number of Iraqi deaths is less than half the infamous figure, is it acceptable that "only" 300,000 have died? Last November, with no explanation, the Iraqi Ministry of Health suddenly began citing 150,000 dead, five times its previous estimate. Is that amount of death acceptable? In January, the United Nations reported that more than 34,000 Iraqis were killed violently in the last year alone. Is that acceptable?
Regarding The Number, the result of what one of the study's authors calls an episode more deadly than the Rwandan genocide... [more within]
posted by y2karl (44 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Also regarding The Number, Anjana Ahuga, in the Times of London, wrote Conflict Over Body Count As Researchers Attack Report On Iraq Mortality Figures, citing the already oft cited 'mainstreet effect' and questioning the rigor of the survey's interviews, interviewers and interviewees. The study's co-author Les Robert responded:
...The two main criticisms which were in both the Nature article and The Times article are completely without merit. They said there wasn’t enough time to have done the interviews. We had eight interviewers working ten hour days for 49 days, they had two hours in the field to ask each household five questions. They had time.

The other criticism was that our people stayed close to the main streets of towns to conduct their surveys. They say that bombs disproportionately go off near the main streets -- the car bombs, the IEDs. But the vast majority of these deaths are Iraqis shooting Iraqis, or from coalition forces. I’d have to check the figures, but I think less than 15 percent of deaths are from car bombs and IEDs.

Les Roberts, in a conversation with Open Source, March 5, 2007.
From The Quantification of War
posted by y2karl at 10:33 PM on March 7, 2007

See also, Time Lambert of the science blogDeltoid:
Anjana Ahuja has written an extraordinarily one-sided article attacking the Lancet study. She drags out the same criticisms that were covered in the Nature story, but even though she cites the Nature piece, she carefully avoids mentioning the Lancet authors' replies, or the opinions of the researchers supporting the study. Ahuja also makes many factual errors, even going as far as claiming that one of the interviewers contradicted Burnham when, in fact, they supported him. All of Ahuja's errors are in the direction of supportting her case, suggesting that she is biased.
London Times hatchet job on Lancet study
posted by y2karl at 10:33 PM on March 7, 2007

See also
...While we will undoubtedly never know the full extent of the human costs of the U.S. air campaign, just a few dogged reporters assigned to the air-power beat might, at the very least, have offered some sense of this one-sided air war. Since this has not been the case, we must rely on the best available evidence... If the 655,000 figure, including over 601,000 violent deaths, is anywhere close to accurate -- and the study offered a possible range of civilian deaths that ran from 392,979 to 942,636 -- this would equal approximately 78,133 Iraqis killed by bombs, missiles, rockets, or cannon rounds from coalition aircraft between March 2003 when the invasion of Iraq began and last June when the study concluded.
The Pentagon's Secret Air War in Iraq
posted by y2karl at 10:34 PM on March 7, 2007

See also
The similarities between Iraq and Darfur are remarkable. The estimate of the number of civilians killed over the past three years is roughly similar. The killers are mostly paramilitaries, closely linked to the official military, which is said to be their main source of arms. The victims too are by and large identified as members of groups, rather than targeted as individuals. But the violence in the two places is named differently. In Iraq, it is said to be a cycle of insurgency and counter-insurgency; in Darfur, it is called genocide. Why the difference ? Who does the naming ? Who is being named ? What difference does it make ?
The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency See also the references to Rwanda within.
posted by y2karl at 10:34 PM on March 7, 2007

Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.
posted by Nahum Tate at 10:52 PM on March 7, 2007

Well they had weapons of mass destruction, and they caused 9/11. They brought this on themselves.
posted by mullingitover at 12:23 AM on March 8, 2007

Of course these numbers are terrible but nothing like the approx 29,000,000 that died in Europe 1920 -1945. The purges in the USSR, the Spanish civil war and the war against the Nazis.
The world tried then as now to ignore the problems, until nearly every state in Europe was consumed by the war.

So long as the war is not in their neighbourhood, most people will just try and get on with their own lives.
posted by happybunny at 12:58 AM on March 8, 2007

One of my friends was telling me some stories about his experiences serving in Baghdad and he met a black kid from some urban area in the U.S. who was there as well. This kid was going about the company of soldiers talking about how he could handle this because he was from "the streets." My friend told me that he just looked at him and said "Dude, do you know where you are? This is the worst place on Earth. There are children who are starving to death in Africa who would rather starve to death than be here."

I remember back March of '03 when this war began, I was in one of my English classes and there was a guy who was an Air Force pilot who just reenlisted to fight Saddam and was planning to join the war effort soon. He was so convinced that Saddam and the Iraqis did 9-11 so he was going to get some payback. He said that if anyone disagreed with him, he was going to punch them in the mouth. No one said anything until a girl spoke up and said "so would you hit me?" Nothing ever came of it, but still who could have known Colin Powell could inspire everyone so much with digital trucks and blurred out satellite imagery? Support for the War at that time was like around 70%.

My math:

US deaths "because of Saddam."
~3,000 for 9-11
~3,000+ American soldiers for Iraq "because of Bush Administration"

x16 for casualties which makes
~48,000 (that can't be right, can it?)

Iraqi deaths:
At least ~100,000 (MAYBE 650,000?!)

This is pretty messed up. Just another day in America I guess. . .
posted by j-urb at 1:09 AM on March 8, 2007

Imagine what will happen if Iraq does somehow become a peaceful liberal democracy. Then they could investigate what happened during the war. Then what? What if they find that US has armed, organized, trained and directed militia groups that committed war crimes and atrocities?

Peace & democracy in Iraq may well be the very worst thing that could happen to the current and probably next administration.
posted by srboisvert at 1:10 AM on March 8, 2007

Here's the London Times article.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:43 AM on March 8, 2007

Appreciate the links karl, a necessity with an important story in an area where facts are necessarily cryptic lest they become known.

Was aware of the 2004 Lancet report (the Guardian's coverage) that averaged 100,000, and thought it likely.

The original invasion is over and the air war is (well, was) over. Most of the fighting since is in the streets, often small arms. Hard to buy 500,000 dead since.

I'm seeing a lot of arguments about civilian death rates, deaths caused by invasion, War deaths, and deaths while the War is going on....hard to sort it all out...
posted by toma at 2:19 AM on March 8, 2007

The original invasion is over and the air war is (well, was) over. Most of the fighting since is in the streets, often small arms. Hard to buy 500,000 dead since.

Oxfam: In modern conflicts over 80 percent of all casualties are civilians and 90 percent of civilian causalities are caused by small arms.

One body at a time doesn't make it to the headlines. Even bombings with over 100 casualties are beginning to lose their news appeal.
posted by hoskala at 2:47 AM on March 8, 2007

Good takedowns of a lot of the criticisms of the original survey:
- Dan Davies of Crooked Timber fame
- the late* Chris Lightfoot.
posted by crocomancer at 3:40 AM on March 8, 2007

has w killed more iraqis than saddam yet?
posted by quonsar at 4:23 AM on March 8, 2007

I just don't see how Iraqi's blowing up other Iraqi's with Iranian and Syrian money is W's fault.
posted by humanfont at 4:51 AM on March 8, 2007

I just don't see how Iraqi's blowing up other Iraqi's with Iranian and Syrian money is W's fault.
posted by humanfont at 4:51 AM PST on March 8

First answer: where do you live; odds are the metropolitan area of some city (just like Iraq.) Suppose the US Army were to come in and kill all of the police officers, blow up municipal power, sewage, and communications (Desert Fox, GWI, GWII) Then all the Libertarians come and loot the hated offices of the utilities, tax offices and the police, all under the watch of said US Army. In an environment of mayhem and violence, the most violent group wins. Bodies pile up. Meanwhile, the US Army continues to use air strikes to confront the growing street gang problems. Who do you blame?

Second answer: it doesn't matter what you think, the Iraqis blame us.
posted by geos at 5:32 AM on March 8, 2007

U.S. Army’s Field Manual 27-10: “The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety….”

Although the coalition forces are not police - occupation law as per the geneva convention (ratified by both the us and iraq) imposes policing responsibilities on them during an occupation.

It is in fact W's responsibility to stop iraqi's being blown up at all.
posted by FidelDonson at 5:42 AM on March 8, 2007

has w killed more iraqis than saddam yet?

Compared to the study's figures, more Iraqis have died since the invasion than in some decades of Saddam's rule before, first Gulf War included.

For example, acoording to ABC television news, artillery and air strikes are being called in Baghdad as part of fighting in the surge. Air strikes and artillery, in other words, are being used on civilian neighborhoods in a city of some millions. Overseas, the phrase war crimes have come to many minds and lips for some time.

Here's the London Times article.

Same article by Anjana Ahuga as linked above.
posted by y2karl at 5:55 AM on March 8, 2007

I just don't see how Iraqi's blowing up other Iraqi's with Iranian and Syrian money is W's fault.

It comes with being the decider and a lying asshole coward.
And BTW, it's Saudi money.

We're really getting our Mission Accomplished on!!
posted by nofundy at 5:59 AM on March 8, 2007

And humanfont reminds me why I like to make fun of Americans.
posted by chunking express at 6:06 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just don't see how Iraqi's blowing up other Iraqi's with Iranian and Syrian money is W's fault.

Pottery Barn Rule.

" 'You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,' he told the president. 'You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You'll own it all.'
posted by octothorpe at 6:34 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just don't see how Iraqi's blowing up other Iraqi's with Iranian and Syrian money is W's fault.
posted by humanfont

That is the most astonishing, and disgusting, sentence I have read in a long while.
posted by taosbat at 6:52 AM on March 8, 2007

That is the most astonishing, and disgusting, sentence I have read in a long while.

Then you need to read some right wing blogs. You'll see comments like that every day. Go to the Blog Report on Salon and read the right hand column, they're sort of dispatches from an alternative universe that only occasionally touches the real one.
posted by octothorpe at 7:05 AM on March 8, 2007

Thanks, but no.
posted by taosbat at 7:08 AM on March 8, 2007

humanfront: as others have said, it's because W. and Rumsfeld failed to do their job as occupiers and provide for the safety of the Iraqi people.

Also-- you forgot about the Saudi money that is funding Sunni insurgents in Iraq.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:01 AM on March 8, 2007

Four years on Saturday, right?
posted by klangklangston at 8:29 AM on March 8, 2007

The suicide bombing of the bookseller's neigborhood in old Baghdad a few days ago...what a hell hath the White House released.
posted by kozad at 8:52 AM on March 8, 2007

at this point Iraq is a red herring, and a trap for American liberals -- about two years too late to do anything about it at the polls that really counted, the 2004 election, all Americans except the yellow-dog-Republican crowd has figured what a gigantic fuckup the Iraq war is.

the real issue, the one that really counts (also because there won't be a fast and complete pullout from Iraq, period), is that forgotten war on terrar -- the real issue is Osama still at large and Al Qaeda on the rise, quietly planning their 9/11 sequel as America is stuck in Iraq (remember how cheap, and relatively simple on the organizational level for them to organize the 9/11 operation).

the irony being of course, as soon as they strike again the GOP gets a 30-40% boost in the polls, and wins at least a couple election cycles after that, just like it happened after the first 9/11.

but really, as of late winter 2007 the Iraq War is a red herring -- it's a fuck-up, everybody knows it, except the few men guilty of planning it and their most dutiful bootlickers. the real issue is, when and where and how is Al Qaeda going to strike again on American soil -- everything else, at this point, is a body count. (and you don't do effective politics with that issue -- Nixon won twice as America was stuck in Vietnam, with the draft and a much higher body count than Iraq and much more pervasive, independent media scrutiny).

My 2 cents of advice to my progressive American friends -- let it go, or prepare to lose again very soon in the future. Don't chase that plastic lure rabbit anymore, you're running in circles and going nowhere -- Iraq now is just bait.
posted by matteo at 10:01 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Good advice matteo.

This is Bush's war. Period.

The opposition solution, a "fully funded withdrawal."

We cannot expect the people who screwed up so badly to change and execute well all of a sudden.
posted by nofundy at 11:21 AM on March 8, 2007

Excellent post, y2karl. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 11:58 AM on March 8, 2007

I couldn't disagree more with matteo. The Iraq War isn't just an abstraction; it's a slaughter, being perpetrated with US funding in the name of US citizens. Reducing it to a political matter is unconscionable.

Moreover, if you're genuinely antiwar and not just anti-Republican, you have to realize that forcing the Iraq War to end would actually be a deterrent to further wars. Anyone who is even vaguely progressive should want another "Vietnam Syndrome," where the cost of waging wars is just too damn high to even consider it. Iraq isn't "just bait," it's an atrocity. Putting the eye on the "prize" of a Democratic administration would just mean turning the keys for the endless war machine over to someone who's a bit less evil. Iraq must be opposed until the end, or we will see another and another, starting with Iran.
posted by graymouser at 12:09 PM on March 8, 2007

The number I usually see associated with Rwanda is 800,000 victims in 3 months. Am I missing something, or is the claim that Iraq is deadlier than Rwanda completely off?
posted by giantfist at 1:21 PM on March 8, 2007

giantfist: The conflict in Iraq is still going on. Roberts and his co-authors estimated that as of July 2006, the number of excess deaths since the start of the war was 650,000, and that the rate of excess deaths was about 1000/day. If the rate has stayed the same, the estimated number of excess deaths in Iraq since the start of the war (including deaths between last July and today) would now be more than 850,000.
posted by russilwvong at 1:37 PM on March 8, 2007

Reducing it to a political matter is unconscionable.

politicians are the ones who decide about war -- whether or not to start them, and against whom to fight them. even, in the end, when and how to stop them. they set the agenda because they hold the power. war is political, even more so in a post-911 world.

and as I said, as soon as America is hit again, you automatically get yourself another four or six years of all-GOP government, White House and Congress, and you'll probably think back fondly on the good old days of the moderate Bush administration.

war is political. the quicker you figure that out, the clearer your vision will get.

Anyone who is even vaguely progressive should want another "Vietnam Syndrome," where the cost of waging wars is just too damn high to even consider it.

there is no such thing. soon after this phantom "Vietnam Syndrome" kicked in, the Reagan Era began. look up some data about the US Pentagon budget after the "Vietnam Syndrome" -- check out that HUGE spike.

(you might also be well advised to check out middle cass real median income since that "Syndrome" began)

the US economy is militarised, simple and plain -- even more so after 9/11. simple observation of the last six and a half years teaches you that the American Right thrives after a terror attack on US soil.

for so many reasons, avoiding another hit should be the progressives number 1 issue -- God knows the Right would only have to gain if it happened again.
posted by matteo at 3:32 PM on March 8, 2007

I have to agree with you, matteo, at least this much: what the Dems are doing now, floundering around with mostly meaningless gestures, gestures which are doomed from conception because they don't have the votes, it's a load of hooey.
posted by taosbat at 6:43 PM on March 8, 2007

A converging line of evidence...
posted by taosbat at 8:08 PM on March 8, 2007

"Anyone who is even vaguely progressive should want another "Vietnam Syndrome," where the cost of waging wars is just too damn high to even consider it."

Eh. This is where I split off from progressives, arguably. It's not war per se that's bad. And the cost of waging wars shouldn't be so high that it's seen as impossible. They're important features of policy, frankly, and the "liberal" kneejerk opposition is something that I find regrettably short-sighted when it comes to my allies politically.
Perhaps I'm just a Kennedy Democrat in some ways.
posted by klangklangston at 9:11 PM on March 8, 2007

Consider another number:
The price tag for the Iraq War is now estimated at $700 billion in direct costs and perhaps twice that much when indirect expenditures are included. Cost estimates vary - Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz puts the total cost at more than $2 trillion - but let's be conservative and say it's only $1 trillion (in today's dollars).

As a number of other commentators have recently written, this number - a 1 followed by 12 zeroes - can be put into perspective in various ways. Given how large the war looms, it doesn't hurt to repeat this simple exercise with other examples and in other ways...

There are many comparisons that might be made, and devising new governmental monetary units is one way to make them.

Consider, for example, that the value of one EPA, the annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, is about $7.5 billion. The cost of the Iraq War is thus more than a century's worth of EPA spending (in today's dollars), almost 130 EPAs, only a small handful of which would probably have been sufficient to clean up Superfund sites around the country.

Or note that the annual budget for the Department of Education is about $55 billion, which puts the price tag for Iraq at about 18 EDs. Just a few of these EDs would certainly have put muscle into the slogan "No child left behind."

And since the annual budgets of the National Science Foundation and the National Cancer Institute are $6 billion and $5 billion, respectively, the $1 trillion war cost is equivalent to 170 NSFs and 200 NCIs.

No doubt a couple of those NSFs could have been used to develop cheap hybrid cars and alternative fuels. Scientific progress is by its nature unpredictable, but some extra NCIs might also have lead to breakthroughs in cancer treatment.

The cost of the war can also be expressed as approximately 28 HS's, where HS, the annual budget for the Department of Homeland Security, is about $35 billion. Really securing the ports and chemical plants would have only eaten up a few of these HS's. A few more could have been usefully spent in Afghanistan.

One last and rather tiny governmental monetary unit functions almost as spare change and has the ungainly acronym NHTSA. It stands for the annual budget of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which is approximately $670 million, or about two-thirds of $1 billion. The Iraq War has cost about 1,500 NHTSA's, several of which could probably have reduced the more than 40,000 Americans killed annually on our roads.

Of course, using these nonstandard monetary units isn't quite appropriate when trying to come to terms with the more than 3,000 U.S. soldiers killed, the 20,000 wounded, and the number of Iraqis killed and wounded. The latter number is staggering, whether you subscribe to the figures put out by Iraq Body Count or those published in Lancet or to other even higher estimates.
The Cost of the Iraq War: Can You Say $1,000,000,000,000?
posted by y2karl at 12:52 AM on March 9, 2007

Tears And Blood And Shit
posted by homunculus at 4:26 PM on March 9, 2007

From Deltoid:
Gilbert Burnham has just given a talk at MIT on the Lancet studies on deaths in Iraq...

Some of things he mentioned:

USAID (which has expertise in cluster sampling) was told to look for holes in the study, but couldn't find any.
They will soon release the data (with identifying material removed) to other researchers...
Here are the video [.ram] links for broadband and dial-up.
posted by y2karl at 10:16 AM on March 11, 2007

y2karl, was that you in the baseball cap and glasses...with, like, some cartoons on the desk?

I haven't attended a college lecture in awhile...I'm glad you posted it and that I have headphones.

I will be interested to see some real rebuttals (but won't hold my breath). The dismissals were never sufficient. That's what's good about public science.
posted by taosbat at 9:14 PM on March 11, 2007

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