Newshour special investigation - Iraq civilian deaths
Following a Freedom of Information request, BBC World Service Newshour has learnt that a senior British Government official advised ministers to
show "caution" about publicly criticising a report published last October
in the Lancet, which estimated that 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result
of the war in Iraq.
If the Lancet survey is correct, two-and-a-half per
cent of the Iraqi population - an average of more than 500 people a day - have
been killed since the start of the war.
The Chief Scientific Adviser to the British Ministry of Defence described
the methods used by the Lancet survey as "close to best practice" adding
that the "study design is robust."
A statistician at the Department of International Development said the
method used in the survey was "tried and tested" and, if anything, could
lead to an underestimate of the number of deaths.
The Lancet published the survey in October 2006.
It was conducted by the
Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and compared mortality rates before
and after the invasion by surveying 47 randomly chosen areas across 16
provinces in Iraq.
The researchers spoke to nearly 1,850 families
compromising more than 12,800 people.
In nearly 92% of cases family members produced death certificates to
support their answers.
The survey estimated that 601,000 deaths were the
result of violence, mostly gunfire.
Shortly after the survey's publication, Prime Minister Tony Blair's official
spokesperson said the Lancet's figure was not anywhere near accurate.
said the survey had used an extrapolation technique, from a relatively
small sample from an area of Iraq that was not representative of the
country as a whole.
The British Government says it prefers to use figures from the Iraqi Health
These estimate deaths at less than one-tenth of the Lancet's
United States President George W Bush said: "I don't consider it (the Lancet's) a credible
report. Neither does General Casey and neither do Iraqi officials."
One of the documents just released by the Foreign Office is an email in
which an official asks: "Are we really sure the report is likely to be
right? That is certainly what the brief implies."
replies:"We do not (not) accept the figures quoted in the Lancet survey
In the same email the official later writes: "However the
survey methodology used here can not be rubbished, it is a tried and test
way of measuring mortality in conflict zones."
Asked how it can accept the Lancet's methodology but reject its findings,
the Government has today issued a written statement:
"The methodology has
been used in other conflict situations, notably the Democratic Republic
of Congo. However the Lancet figures are much higher than statistics from
other sources, which only goes to show how estimates can vary enormously
according to the method of collection. There is considerable debate
amongst the scientific community over the accuracy of the figures."
BBC World Service made a Freedom of Information request on 28 November
2006. The information was released on 14 March 2007.
BBC World Service Press Office