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  • Wednesday, September 21, 2005


    The Dead in Iraq

    As usual, I started on what I thought would be a simple quest for the number of dead in Iraq during and since the invasion in 2003 by Coalition forces. The number of Coalition dead is pretty well documented with nary a bobble. Iraq Coalition Casualty Count has a running count. But civilian and "enemy" (Iraqi military and/or insurgency forces) casualty figures are much harder to find accurate figures for.

    There is the much ballyhooed Lancet publication of a study that estimates approx. 100,000 Iraqis dead in Oct. 2004, but that study has some serious flaws as noted in this Slate article and this Wikipedia entry. While I would hope that a "peer-reviewed" study has credibility and is valid, I can't readily discount the criticism I've read. Particularly interesting is the statistical parameters of the results: The authors are 95% certain the number of dead is between 8,000 and 194,000. In other words, the hundred thousand number usually quoted is just (basically) the median number between those extremes. This may be the best they can do considering their methods of gathering information but I'm underwhelmed by the broad resulting range.

    This Wikipedia entry on "Casualties of the conflict in Iraq since 2003" has some fairly good figures as of August, 2005.

    The Iraq Body Count site seems to be a good place to find baseline information on the number of dead. My understanding (and I may be wrong) is that they are considered conservative in their estimates. Here is a statement from the site:
    What we are attempting to provide is a credible compilation of civilian deaths that have been reported by recognized sources. Our maximum therefore refers to reported deaths - which can only be a sample of true deaths unless one assumes that every civilian death has been reported. It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media.
    As of this writing, the minimum number of reported civilian deaths is 25,885 and maximum is 29,187. These numbers are mainly gathered from documented news sources The site also includes a database of incidents. This is the description :
    This is a human security project to establish an independent and comprehensive public database of media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq resulting directly from military action by the USA and its allies. This database includes up to 7,350 deaths which resulted from coalition military action during the "major-combat" phase prior to May 1st 2003. In the current occupation phase the database includes all deaths which the Occupying Authority has a binding responsibility to prevent under the Geneva Conventions and Hague Regulations. This includes civilian deaths resulting from the breakdown in law and order, and deaths due to inadequate health care or sanitation.
    A Guardian article from July 19, 2005 uses Iraq Body Count as a source and includes these paragraphs:
    The figures, compiled from Iraqi and international media reports, found US and coalition military forces were responsible for 37% of the deaths, with anti-occupation forces and insurgents responsible for 9%. A further 36% were blamed on criminal violence.

    Civilian deaths attributed to US and coalition military forces peaked in the invasion period from March to May 2003 - which accounts for 30% of all civilian deaths in the two-year period - but the longer-term trend has been for increasing numbers to die at the hands of insurgents.
    Adding up the percentages, I get 82% total; so what caused those other 18% to die a violent death? I think my imagination is so overwhelmed it's flaking out.

    So this sad trip through the statistics of death in Iraq closes. I don't really know if I've learned anything beyond the fact that in any war, innocent people will die. Generals and politicians will call their deaths regrettable but unavoidable. While there may be just wars, the more I look at the history of wars, the more I conclude war is a ravening beast which devours both good and evil in its hunger. Only a few gain from war: politicians and certain companies.

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