[Marxism] Juan Cole's Informed Comment defends figure of 650, 000 killled under occupation
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Oct 16 08:42:23 MDT 2006
Note that "only" 30% of deaths are from the US military. That is, the US
military has directly killed 200,000 Iraqis. The other 465,000 deaths it
is only responsible for).
U.S. Business Will Try To Discredit Iraq "Excess' Death Toll" Study
By Juan Cole
10/11/06 "Information Clearing House" -- -- A careful Johns Hopkins
study has estimated that between 420,000 and 790,000 Iraqis have died as
a result of war and political violence since the beginning of the US
invasion in March, 2003.
Interesting conclusions are that we are wrong to focus so much on
suicide car bombings. The real action is just shooting enemies down with
bullets. Only 30 percent of the deaths have been caused by the US
military, and that percentage has declined this year because of the
And, folks, this is a major civil war, with something close to 200,000
dying every year.
I once warned that a precipitate US withdrawal could result in a million
dead a la Cambodia or Afghanistan. Little did I know that the conditions
created by the US invasion and occupation have all along been driving
toward that number anyway!
This study is going to have a hard ride. In part it is because many of
us in the information business are not statistically literate enough to
judge the sampling techniques. Many will tend to dismiss the findings as
implausible without a full appreciation of how low the margin of error
is this time. Second, it is a projection, and all projections are
subject to possible error, and journalists, being hardnosed people, are
wary of them.
The New York Times report has already made a serious error, saying that
deaths in the Saddam period were covered up. The families interviewed
knew whether their loved ones were disappearing in 2001 and 2002 and had
no reason to cover it up if they were. The survey established the
baseline with a contemporary questionnaire. It wasn't depending on Iraqi
Another reason for the hard ride is that the Republican Party and a
significant fraction of the business elite in this country is very
invested in the Iraq War, and they will try to discredit the study. Can
you imagine the profits being made by the military-industrial complex on
all this? Do they really want the US public to know the truth about what
the weapons they produce have done to Iraqis? When you see someone
waxing cynical about the study, ask yourself: Does this person know what
a chi square is? And, who does this person work for, really?
Then Anthony Cordesmann told AP that the timing and content of the study
were political. But is he saying that 1800 households from all over Iraq
conspired to lie to Johns Hopkins University researchers for the purpose
of defeating Republicans in US elections this November? Does that make
any sense? And, if Cordesmann has evidence that the authors and editor
set their timetable for completion and publication according to the US
political calendar, he should provide it. If he cannot, he should
Ironically enough, the same journalists who will question this study
will accept without query the estimates for deaths in Darfur, e.g.,
which are generated by exactly the same techniques, and which are almost
certainly not as solid.
The study concludes that an average of 470 Iraqis per day have likely
died as a result of political violence since March 19, 2003, though the
number could be as low as 350 per day if the margin of error skewed to
the low side. United Nations estimates based on figures from Iraqi
morgues are more like 100 per day.
I follow the violence in Iraq carefully and daily, and I find the
First of all, Iraqi Muslims don't believe in embalming or open casket
funerals days later. They believe that the body should be buried by
sunset the day of death, in a plain wooden box. So there is no reason to
expect them to take the body to the morgue. Although there are benefits
to registering with the government for a death certificate, there are
also disadvantages. Many families who have had someone killed believe
that the government or the Americans were involved, and will have wanted
to avoid drawing further attention to themselves by filling out state
forms and giving their address.
Personally, I believe very large numbers of Iraqi families quietly bury
their dead without telling the government of all people anything about
it. Another large number of those killed is dumped in the Tigris river
by their killers. A fisherman on the Tigris looking for lunch recently
caught the corpse of a woman. The only remarkable thing about it is that
he let it be known to the newspapers. I'm sure the Tigris fishermen
throw back unwanted corpses every day.
Not to mention that for substantial periods of time since 2003 it has
been dangerous in about half the country just to move around, much less
to move around with dead bodies.
There is heavy fighting almost every day at Ramadi in al-Anbar province,
among guerrillas, townspeople, tribes, Marines and Iraqi police and
army. We almost never get a report of these skirmishes and we almost
never are told about Iraqi casualties in Ramadi. Does 1 person a day die
there of political violence? Is it more like 4? 10? What about Samarra?
Tikrit? No one is saying. Since they aren't, on what basis do we say
that the Lancet study is impossible?
There are about 90 major towns and cities in Iraq. If we subtract
Baghdad, where about 100 a day die, that still leaves 89. If an average
of 4 or so are killed in each of those 89, then the study's results are
correct. Of course, 4 is an average. Cities in areas dominated by the
guerrilla movement will have more than 4 killed daily, sleepy Kurdish
towns will have no one killed.
If 470 were dying every day, what would that look like?
West Baghdad is roughly 10% of the Iraqi population. It is certainly
generating 47 dead a day. Same for Sadr City, same proportions. So to
argue against the study you have to assume that Baquba, Hilla, Kirkuk,
Kut, Amara, Samarra, etc., are not producing deaths at the same rate as
the two halves of Baghad. But it is perfectly plausible that rough
places like Kut and Amara, with their displaced Marsh Arab populations,
are keeping up their end. Four dead a day in Kut or Amara at the hands
of militiamen or politicized tribesmen? Is that really hard to believe?
Have you been reading this column the last three years?
Or let's take the city of Basra, which is also roughly 10% of the Iraqi
population. Proportionally speaking, you'd expect on the order of 40
persons to be dying of political violence there every day. We don't see
40 persons from Basra reported dead in the wire services on a daily
But last May, the government authorities in Basra came out and admitted
that security had collapsed in the city and that for the previous month,
one person had been assassinated every hour. Now, that is 24 dead a day,
just from political assassination. Apparently these persons were being
killed in faction fighting among Shiite militias and Marsh Arab tribes.
We never saw any of those 24 deaths a day reported in the Western press.
And we never see any deaths from Basra reported in the wire services on
a daily basis even now. Has security improved since May? No one seems
even to be reporting on it, yes or no.
So if 24 Iraqis can be shot down every day in Basra for a month (or for
many months?) and no one notices, the Lancet results are perfectly
The abstract for the study says: ' Methods: Between May and July 2006 a
national cluster survey was conducted in Iraq to assess deaths occurring
during the period from January 1, 2002, through the time of survey in
2006. Information on deaths from 1,849 households containing 12,801
persons was collected. This survey followed a similar but smaller survey
conducted in Iraq in 2004. Both surveys used standard methods for
estimating deaths in conflict situations, using population-based
Key Findings: Death rates were 5.5/1000/year pre-invasion, and overall,
13.2/1000/year for the 40 months post-invasion. We estimate that through
July 2006, there have been 654,965 "excess deaths"-fatalities above the
pre-invasion death rate-in Iraq as a consequence of the war. Of
post-invasion deaths, 601,027 were due to violent causes. Non-violent
deaths rose above the pre-invasion level only in 2006. Since March 2003,
an additional 2.5% of Iraq's population have died above what would have
occurred without conflict. The proportion of deaths ascribed to
coalition forces has diminished in 2006, though the actual numbers have
increased each year. Gunfire remains the most common reason for death,
though deaths from car bombing have increased from 2005. Those killed
are predominantly males aged 15-44 years. '
More on the techniques from the text:
' The surveyors from the School of Medicine of Al Mustansiria University
in Baghdad conducted a national survey between May and July 2006. In
this survey, sites were collected according to the population size and
the geographic distribution in Iraq. The survey included 16 of the 18
governates in Iraq, with larger population areas having more sample
sites. The sites were selected entirely at random, so all households had
an equal chance of being included. The survey used a standard cluster
survey method, which is a recommended method for measuring deaths in
conflict situations. The survey team visited 50 randomly selected sites
in Iraq, and at each site interviewed 40 households about deaths which
had occurred from January 1, 2002, until the date of the interview in
July 2006. We selected this time frame to compare results with our
previous Human Cost of Iraq War survey, which covered the period between
January 2002 and September 2004. In all, information was collected from
1,849 households completing the survey, containing 12,801 persons.
This sample size was selected to be able to statistically detect death
rates with 95% probability of obtaining the correct result. When the
preliminary results were reviewed, it was apparent three clusters were
misattributed. These were dropped from the data for analysis, giving a
final total of 47 clusters, which are the basis of this study. ' Juan
Cole is President of the Global Americana Institute. Visit his website
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