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'600,000 killed': Is that a story?

Peter Barron | 12:41 UK time, Friday, 13 October 2006

Here's a relatively new phenomenon, you might call it "e-mails before broadcast".

Newsnight logoWhen the story broke of the Lancet report into civilian deaths in Iraq it was accompanied by a rash of e-mails from anti-war groups urging us to run the story. Did that influence us?

Well, yes in the sense that I learned of the story from an anti-war campaigner who e-mails me regularly. But also no. When I took the report into our morning meeting where none of the producers had yet seen it, there was instant and unanimous agreement that - while the claim was in some people's view not credible - it was easily the most significant development of the day.

Then there was a second wave of e-mails. Not really suggesting we don't do the story, but urging that, if we do, to note that even the authors claim that it is of "limited precision". Don't be bullied by the anti-war lobby, they said. Thanks, we won't.

Then, as other news outlets started to report the story, there was a third wave of e-mails, this time saying sophisticated things like: please don't interview so and so, he doesn't know what he's talking about, if you're looking for a critic of the report please try to find an epidemiologist and not just a pundit, and even: please don't make the same schoolboy statistical error as your colleagues on xy news.

Are these unsolicited interventions helpful or unhelpful? The former, I think, as long as we read them with eyes wide open. You might argue that it would be purer to ignore the pressure from all quarters, but I think lobbying can actually improve our journalism, as long as it's not corrupt, that access to the editors of programmes is equally available to everyone (via e-mail it is) and that we question everything we're told.

Do I have any proof of this? Here's some unscientific evidence. We got fewer e-mails on this subject after broadcast than we did before.



From the previous debates, it might have seemed that there was no practical answer to the Iraq quagmire, and to the prospect of even more than 600,000 dead. Yet, unlikely and controversial as it might be, Sir Richard has successfully taken this particular bull by the horns.

His suggestion that the UK should soon withdraw its troops is a sound basis for future developments. As he suggests these troops could be better deployed in Afghanistan; where their extra numbers could actually result in a military victory where they never could in Iraq.

In fact, as he said, the numbers of UK troops in Iraq have now fallen from 30,000 to 6,000. In comparison with the supposed 300,000 trained Iraqi troops this is a mere fleabite. Indeed, the work being done by these troops is now nearly complete.

The one outstanding issue is claimed to be the stability of the Iraqi police forces in a couple of provinces. Yet, surely, this does not justify heavily armed UK troops on the streets but (much less provocatively but more effectively) UK police officers - on assignment - behind the scenes training, and where necessary purging, the local police.

The real reason for the demands that they stay seems to be political. The Iraqi government, and the US, want their token presence to bolster their own legitimacy. But isn’t that an excellent reason for removing them. It would force the US, in particular, to confront its reasons for claiming legitimacy versus its failure to achieve this.

The UK government answer must be, at the very least, to set a firm timetable for exit; and a viable plan to achieve this.

In any case, as is often the case, the debate now has developed a more positive focus!

  • 2.
  • At 02:27 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Jon Barker wrote:

You say "access to the editors of programmes is available to everyone". Not strictly true - access to editors is available to everyone with e-mail access - a reasonably large proportion of the population but still by no means everyone.

  • 3.
  • At 02:37 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Andrew wrote:

It seems that some people only want to believe the figures they choose to believe in. The same methods and the same group were responsible for the surveys in the Congo. These figures were quoted widely as fact by the media, US State Department, George W Bush and Tony Blair, who quoted the numbers at the 2001 Labour Conference.

At no point were the figures questioned, nor a 'political agenda' of those conducting it raised as an possible motive. On the contrary, these numbers were received with shock and horror by all concerned. I wonder how many people rubbishing them are qualifies to speak of the mathematics and science behind them? I don't see many fellow scientists condemning their peers, do you?

So it would appear that the reason so many choose to question them is because to admit the estimate is a good one would be to admit that OUR governments in OUR name have carried out an illegal invasion that has directly and indirectly killed many hundreds of thousands of people.

Don't forget forget that Iraq had 500,000 children die during the decade or so of sanctions that was placed on the country. It's health system was already shattered and broken, this invasion only added more pain, suffering and death.

Had the invasion been carried out by countries other than the UK and US I very much doubt whether the media, politicians and others criticising it would be doing so.

  • 4.
  • At 02:38 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Nazim Khan wrote:

Just a brief observation. When an armed forces individual is killed, (knowing that there is a posibility of being killed) we get first news item. however with 600,000 civilians killed, of which i persume there were many children. Newnight (of which if have been a viewer for a very long time) had to be forced to putting this item in the schedule.

editor choice? or understanding life is equal or not?....mmm.... or does the editor think not?

let me have your views.

Just a brief note to thank you for the coverage and that I find the methodology and everything about the report both robust and sadly credible and shocking.

I also agree heartily with the contributor who said we should respond with strong contrition.

God Bless and keep up the good work

  • 6.
  • At 02:41 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • gordon wrote:

Peter, this is exactly the reason why I have always maintained that no news broadcast from today's crop of media/journalists can be deemed as being without credibility!!
The reading public expects nothing but a broadcasts which arise from neutral parties who's got "NO PUSH AAROUNDs" from "feuding/contesting" parties!!!
If our media/jounalists of today will rather be partisan and not go then why waist time as a reader who is expecting to be served with nothing but news that serves no peculiar interest?

  • 7.
  • At 02:53 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Clayton Davis wrote:

So, what? How many died of natural causes? Where did they get such a precise count in a country living in chaos? Why should we be told that number? How about telling us the total number of deaths worldwide? It would be greater news should they tell us about somebody living forever. Every one of us will die sooner or later. Why lament? Believe in God and have hope.

  • 8.
  • At 03:01 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Bradley Kieser wrote:

The main point is not the exact figure, but the fact that in response to just under 3 000 people being killed in NY, the Bush administration has gone on to kill man tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people.

The Americans had many shining examples of how to react to terrorism to choose from, including the UK's response to the IRA, but instead, they chose to the John Wayne approach, turning a crime into an international travesty.

The saddest thing of all is that while they have the "strength" to invade other countries, they do not have the strength to say one simple word: Sorry.

  • 9.
  • At 03:08 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Graham Thomas wrote:

For what it's worth Mr. Barron, I agree with you. For me, your approach echoes what the late C. Wright Mills used to say was the purpose of a liberal education. (It went something like) .."the purpose of a liberal education is to develop within the individual a disciplined and informed mind that cannot be overwhelmed." Whether we can ever be certain of so-called facts or the accuracy of reports, it is programmes like "Newsnight" and the democracy of free-speech web-sites such as this that at least open up channels of communication and foster something approaching informed debate.


  • 10.
  • At 03:21 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • michael france wrote:

it seems to me anyway that us americans just have a bad memory.did't we just have a conflict a few years ago called "the vietnam war" were innicent people were also kiiled.we just can't seem to learn from our mistakes.yours truly,

  • 11.
  • At 03:25 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Edward Redding wrote:

It is interesting that with all our scientific knowledge, telecommunications, intelligence gathering and statistical methods views on the effectiveness and justification of the war in Iraq are very much a matter of intuition and emotion. Notwithstanding the need for reason and empiricism, these differences of opinion show the limitations of these methods. In fact it is these limitations to what we can truly know with certainty that has required nations and individuals to adopt moral principles (sorely learnt from history) such as resorting to military force only after first being attacked, because fear so often defeats our ability to measure a threat accurately. Let the tragedy of Iraq remind us that we abandon such principles at the risk of causing great suffering and mayhem. Why is the onus on those opposed to military means to prove the failure of the Iraq war to defeat terrorism and spread democracy? Let those who are in support of this means demonstrate that it is accomplishing these goals. The evidence is all too starkly to the contrary.

  • 12.
  • At 03:28 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • richard wrote:

I shudder to think of the emails that people like you receive.

It's so easy to fling one off. I'm doing it now but because you have encouraged me to.

I guess feedback is useful to you. Does anyone listen to us? Yes because we get emails from Disgusted of Tonbridge Wells!

Of course you must be influenced in advance and I suppose by the number of emails received. I'd like to think you would be more interested in the ones of quality rather than be swayed by quantity.

But what happened in the good old days - pre email? Presumably you received letters and/or phone calls. But after the event.

I'm glad it's you and not me receiving all of the opinions.

  • 13.
  • At 03:40 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Steve E wrote:

So when will Newsnight (or the Today Programme, the World at One, PM, the Six o'clock or the Ten o'clock News) be broadcasting your BBC colleague Paul Reynolds assertions that the figures quoted in the Lancet report are unsubstantiated and (probably) unverifiable?

Quoting Reynolds today…

“The latest figures from the Iraqi health ministry (reported by the Associated Press news agency on 11 October) stated that 2,667 people were killed in Baghdad during September, 400 more than in August.

This gives an average of about 86 per day in the capital.

Baghdad is not the whole country of course, but AP reported the United Nations as saying that in July and August, 6,599 people were killed across the country, of which 5,106 were in Baghdad.

This suggests that Baghdad has by far the highest number of actual and percentage dead.

So, if the current rate in Baghdad is about 86 and the countrywide figure should be about 500 according to the Lancet report, where are the "missing" dead?

The answer from the report's authors would be that the dead are there, but have not been counted.”

  • 14.
  • At 03:42 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Ash wrote:

I just wanted to say "Well done" That is (in my relatively inexpert opinion)what journalism should be.. Thank you for writing such an honest piece.

What is there to comment?
Is this a kind of a game ?
It is obvious that many Iraqis were killed in That satanic war. be it 600.000 more or less the principal is that if this crazy Bush and his criminal neo-Cons Judo-Christian gang were not so blood thirsty not one Iraqi would have been killed during the same period, NONE.
What were they accusing Saddam Hussein with ???
Please stop the crap, if power is stupid we are not.
Cherif Loutfi

  • 16.
  • At 03:49 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Carole McIntyre wrote:

So, >did

  • 17.
  • At 03:59 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • R Berrow wrote:

600.000 that is a lot of deaths from whatever cause .If the war has been running for approx a thousand days; that is 600 a day of continued destruction. Although there must have ben many deaths I think this figure is a little exagerated . Of course America achieved this distinction in a few minutes , with the A bomb. so it is a possibilty but I think unlikely. RB

  • 18.
  • At 04:10 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Kerry Kurt wrote:

Dear Peter,
Your column leaves me with the feeling that the press is a yarn haired rag doll on the verge of dismemberment, pulled between siblings. I admit, siblings that have boatloads of historical family baggage in tow, but siblings none the less.
Are 600,000 lifeless corpses a story? The story is intrusion of the abusive dictatorial patriarch who believes that corporal punishment is the preferred method for behavior modification. At this hyper macro level the violence of corporal punishment quickly turns into capital punishment. Since when is capital punishment of the innocent mind accepted? It is rationalized as acceptable in war. These mangled corpses represent mothers, fathers, uncles, grandmothers, daughter, sons, futures and loves unrealized, who were guilty only of proximity; of hanging out on the same street corner as thugs. Let’s bring this behavior home and create a hypothetical yet analogous reality. This rationalization for implementing a ‘Win at all Costs’ approach to violence would resemble, giving our domestic police carte blanch permission to fire into a crowd where an identified criminal has fled. Disappearing into an innocent crowd is a common escape tactic that is effective in an amoral society because innocent bodies are effective shrapnel sponges. In a moral society, that exists exactly to protect the innocent, the thug’s crowd disappearing act has shorter term effectiveness, in that the innocent crowd has no investment in harboring a predatory monster among them. The clear parody? We have become the predatory monster and have turned the innocent into an instinctive viscerally fueled enemy. And mind you, this is US, where we live, the same society that claims that it values life and values family. Would we put up with that for a moment? Would our police force entertain a similar irrational tactic? Would that tactic generate a justifiably angry response from the crowd and our own extended community members?
Duhh. Clearly, this morally abject tactic has created new biological poisons aka hatred that will flow back upon us and our children's children. The longer we continue this hyper rationalization of amoral behavior against our siblings, meaning the longer we fail to protect the innocent by standers, the greater the imminent tsunami that will reach our shores. This is the story. WE are complicit in the deaths and maiming of innocent life. Our continuous scaring and robbing of innocence are now part of their family story as victim and our family story as abuser. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. By allowing this administration to continue with its perverted blind ambitions, WE tear at our own flesh.

  • 19.
  • At 04:15 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Huw Lloyd James wrote:

I have been a newsnight watcher for many many years and have always held it to be the pre-eminent news focus and comment of the day. I am a supporter of the Iraq War although like many have been disturbed by the post war 'peace'.

Without, I hope, appearing cold hearted, perhaps a genuine range of estimates of the deaths in post war Iraq could be compared and then compare that hideous statistic with the scale of deaths occuring in Saddams time. Perhaps a bargain in humna life but the blood is on our hands but so is the responsibility to assist the country towards occupying its rightful, important role in global affairs. Taking a objective historical view it is global politics and the World order (rightly or wrongly) led us into the war. It will be the same in 100 years time.

  • 20.
  • At 04:47 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Will Harris wrote:

Isn't it amazing. The amount of headlines Holly and Jessica received and the time devoted to 600,000 dead.

People are either utterly uncaring about people in a place they cannot understand, or 600,000 dead is just too much to take in so they ignore it completely.

Amazing. That's 300,000 Holly and Jessica's.

The same could be said about the conflicts happening all around the world. If they're not pretty and living in England, Scotland, Wales etc, then we really just don't seem to care.

  • 21.
  • At 05:01 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Dr. Arthur C. Donart wrote:

The sad results are an indictment of Mr. Bush's doctrine of "pre-emptive strike." The loss of life is staggering. The question for the rest of the world is how do you bring the leaders of the "Super Powers" to justice?

  • 22.
  • At 05:06 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Brian J Dickenson wrote:

I was against the UK going into Iraq because I thought we had no legitimate reason. After what has come to light, especially from the American and UK security services, I am doubly sure we were wrong.
Now Blair is trying to say that our troops are there at the request of the present Iraqi government. What a load of tosh.
Our troops are there because we were part of an invasion force, and at that time Saddam was effectively the legitimate government.
Why do our leaders insist on treating us like mushrooms.
The sooner we hand over power to the Iraqis and leave them to clear up the mess Blair and co. caused, the better

I don't know if the Iraqis are like the Afghan who was interviewed,but he stated that there was no way they could be friends with our guys, because we are infidels.
Echoes of the Crusades?

Dear Newsnight

I am very happy and relieved to see that you continue to be unbiased and give a voice to more one side of the story in your coverage.

In a media world where the reader, the viewer and the listner is patronised and pushed to take sides, you simply report it as it is and challenge everybody to back up their claims.

I do sincerly hope that Newsnight will continue to be an example in excellent research and thorough reporting and a lesson in "how not to dumn down"

Well done!

All the best


  • 24.
  • At 05:18 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Willy wrote:

Your article was distrubing in that no mater how many times I tried to read it, it was unreadable. I know the point you are trying to make but besides the disregard for principles of writing, (I won't grade your paper on them), you need to be really clear, not vague.

  • 25.
  • At 05:42 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Malachi McCormick wrote:

Dear Editors,

To someone intensely involved in the Iraq War debate, and appalled at the lack of concern about Iraqi deaths, the "20 times worse" figure of 655,000 Iraqi dead was nonetheless shocking. My God, so high? Is that possible?
Asked for his reaction to the Lancet figure, Mr. Bush brusquely dismissed it as "not credible". The issue has been dead, or dormant, or deflated since.

Is 655,000 a credible figure? The Lancet name and the apparently scientific statistical method used, said "yes".
But clearly --in retrospect, of course-- the ground should have been better prepared for the release of the report. I did find that the vast range of anywhere between "300,000 to 900,000" seemed something of a joke (like saying that London is somewhere between Los Angeles and Moscow.) Shouldn't the scientists have a better idea?
I also thought that it would have been helpful to making the case, to know more about the statistical approach used, with some simple and convincing examples where it worked well. Plus: an interview or two with the questioners. Did they appear sane, realistic, non-partisan --as opposed to wild-eyed and "wanting to believe the worst"?
Perhaps a "barest minimum" approach would be more convincing (say 100,000 or 200,000).

It would be a disheartening disservice to wanting to know the truth, to lose this to denial & disinterest.

Be unrelenting.

Malachi McCormick
Staten Island, New York.

  • 26.
  • At 05:49 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Bwnjamin williams wrote:

Hello Barron,

I just want to find out what you mean by the word "IS THAT A STORY"

You are an author,you are not surpposed to make this comment.the reason why i said this was before i read the story between me i thought it was an contenplary topic untill i got to read through it.

I like the way you compile your documentry before exposing them but that comment is good to me because it will look as if you the author you are a kind of argueeing within your self.

Any way its an event which took place and also its a story to tell.

So keep on the good work.
Wishing you all the best.


  • 27.
  • At 05:51 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Ryan wrote:

I have been extremely impressed by Mr Baron's accessibility and prompt reply to any questions either by personal email or via this blog.

More than can be said than the BBC Complaints department!

As for the 600k reported by the Lancet I would have appreciate more scrutiny of figures and the partisan history of the individuals involved in the publication.

  • 28.
  • At 06:01 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Zero Piraeus wrote:

Bradley Kieser writes:

So, what? How many died of natural causes?

The 600,000 figure relates to violent deaths that wouldn't have happened if not for the invasion. The report also estimates another 50,000 extra non-violent deaths caused by the conflict, again on top of the number that would have happened anyway.

Where did they get such a precise count in a country living in chaos?

It isn't a precise count; it's the most likely estimate. They also give a range of figures that they're 95% confident the true figure lies between, which is roughly 400,000 to 800,000.

Why should we be told that number?

You don't think it's important that over half a million people may have died because of what's been done in our name?

  • 29.
  • At 06:23 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

I have a couple of observations to add on the use of numbers and statistics in the media generally.

As was pointed out on the BBC Radio 4 series “More Or Less” some time ago, the understanding of statistics and numbers by the media and the public is generally very poor.

Tabloid reporting of health stories is a classic example of this. For example, the media will often report that doing or not doing something increase or reduce your risk of a particular condition by x%. Even if this was true, if the risk of a particular condition is one in tens of thousands, doing/not doing something may increases/reduces the risk by x%, but the risk is still very low, so the actual impact of the recommended course of action is minimal.

With regard to estimates of deaths in events such as natural disasters, there is fierce competition between charities for the public’s attention and the media is a key tool for charities in obtaining publicity. When charities give estimates of the number of deaths in a particular event, they know that whichever charity gives the highest number of deaths will be quoted in the media.

Anybody believing over 600,000 dead has to be innumerate. Over 500 excess deaths every day? More deaths per day than occurred in the American civil war? And a pre-war death rate despite the sanctions lower than Canada's?

People will believe what they want to believe, but where are the bodies?

  • 31.
  • At 06:49 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • theodora wrote:

for someone receiving daily newsletters, updates and generally information over the internet, either via e-mail (more direct) or just by browsing informative sites, credibility is the most important issue. Then comes the ability to intervene and offer an opinion.

  • 32.
  • At 07:39 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Alan Marsh wrote:

As a former member of the armed forces I simply shook my head when the figure of 600,000 was announced. It is an impossibly large number, given the short duration of the campaign, the swiftness of the invasion, and the relatively small engagement of western troops there. It amounts very approx to 550 deaths a day. Given the wide coverage given to a typical day of infighting in Baghdad resulting in roughly 40 murders a day, how is it possible that another 510 a day, every day, are being overlooked?

  • 33.
  • At 07:45 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Nick Glanville wrote:

Well it all becomes a question of trust?

Do you believe the politicians or the scientists?

Me the scientists! they have no axe to grind and becuase Iraq is no longer a GOOD news story, its been lost from the news& politial agenda

car bombs,roadside attacks, sectarian killings each with 10 - 15 - 30 people killed and thats what is reported

this country is in civil war and the casulaities are the civilians!

do you honestly think that this target of innocent deaths of some 600k is that far fetched - I dont!

let's think next time before we jump in to a conflict!!!

  • 34.
  • At 09:21 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

I don't see what the number whether it's 6000, 600,000 or 6 million has to do with anything. I didn't notice anyone saying the Allies should stop fighting Nazi Germany because about 2 million Germans had died in the war...and most at the hands of allied soldiers including hundreds of thousands of civilians bombed in their own cities. By contrast, most of the Iraqi deaths are attributable to the insurgents, not the coalition. Except for a handful of unusual cases we categorize as criminal, the coalition forces did not go out to deliberately kill civilians the way the insurgents did. I haven't heard any serious talk of prosecuting them as war criminals.

  • 35.
  • At 11:34 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Diana wrote:

I am sure that the 600,000 deaths is not an exaggeration. As I assured before Bush's war on Irak, this war would trigger worldwide terrorism, which we are already living. Furthermore, while Saddam Hussein was in power, even though he tortured and killed his people, there were no insurgents, no killings and no war in Irak. Saddam Hussein is actually tried for his tortures and his crimes (killings), but U.S. soldiers tortured and degraded prisoners. Also for their simple pleasure 3 U.S. soldiers went to an Iraqi home to kill a couple, their child, and raped and killed a girl teenager. It is outrageous: 600,000 Irakis killed by the insurgents plus the thousands killed by the U.S. soldiers.
In my opinion, Bush is an assassin, the most criminal and dangerous person in this world, more dangerous than Osama bin Lsfrn, than the Taliban, than Saddam Hussein, than Hitler, and than all the greatest criminals.


  • 36.
  • At 11:46 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • tony wrote:

Prosecuting war criminals? Start here:

If I remember correct on this story, the BBC urdu service in its translated version was even faster in counting the dead by mentioning the figure beginning with 7... and not 6... Again, I read Urdu version of the BBC Englsih story October8 " Remembering..." The English version was a true report while it Urdu translated published on Urdu web was confusing, news item intro was missing and edited in a way to reflect criticism of the Islamabad govt. What I mean is the pandora box of statistics and news writing is being used in different directions by different circles for own interests within BBC...!

  • 38.
  • At 12:19 AM on 14 Oct 2006,
  • Andrew wrote:

Mark (No. 30) said,

"I don't see what the number whether it's 6000, 600,000 or 6 million has to do with anything."

An unbelievable but typical right-wing response where personal accountability applies to everyone else but themselves. I thought the idea was to save Iraqis from Saddam, not kill 6000, 600,000 or 6,000,000 of them?

Mark then said, "I didn't notice anyone saying the Allies should stop fighting Nazi Germany because about 2 million Germans had died in the war."

Surely you make a mistake in drawing a comparison between the Nazi's invading Europe, starting a world war, killing millions of Jews and the invasion of Iraq?

Mark went on, "By contrast, most of the Iraqi deaths are attributable to the insurgents, not the coalition. Except for a handful of unusual cases we categorize as criminal, the coalition forces did not go out to deliberately kill civilians the way the insurgents did."

People warned that the current situation would be the likely outcome before the war started. People like Mark were so busy cheering on a war that was sold on such false pretences that he didn't have the inclination to actually think the situation through and consider the consequences.

Finally he said, "Except for a handful of unusual cases we categorize as criminal, the coalition forces did not go out to deliberately kill civilians the way the insurgents did. I haven't heard any serious talk of prosecuting them as war criminals."

So you backed a war on the basis that you weren't going to intentionally kill anyone? What sort of war did you think you were getting into here? Dropping bombs on built up civilian areas wasn't done with the intention of killing anyone? Were they just in the wrong place at the wrong time Mark?

Those Iraqi's killing Iraqi's should be tried, but then we haven't heard anything about prosecuting our own leaders for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

  • 39.
  • At 09:17 AM on 14 Oct 2006,
  • Art Haykin wrote:

Joseph Stalin, the second greatest butcher in history, just after Mao, said it best:

"The death of just one man is a tragedy, and the deaths of 10,000 men is a statistic."

Will we ever know the full story? I doubt it, just another cover up.

  • 41.
  • At 01:08 PM on 14 Oct 2006,
  • Ron F wrote:

Peter Barron -

while the claim was in some people's view not credible

I didn't realise any of the Newsnight team were qualified epidemiologists. Could you tell us who they are and what peer reviewed mortality survey's they have published?

  • 42.
  • At 10:34 PM on 14 Oct 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

So good that Newsnight has an editor who knows that complaints after "publication" are not the mark of success.

Mark wrote: "...most of the Iraqi deaths are attributable to the insurgents, not the coalition."

The figures are from rates before and after the invasion. The Insurgents are killing, but would likely not have been doing if there had not been an invasion, and so their toll is also down to the invasion.

"...Except for a handful of unusual cases we categorize as criminal, the coalition forces did not go out to deliberately kill civilians the way the insurgents did. I haven't heard any serious talk of prosecuting them as war criminals."

Then you haven't been listening.

Alan Marsh wrote: "As a former member of the armed forces I simply shook my head when the figure of 600,000 was announced. It is an impossibly large number, given the short duration of the campaign, the swiftness of the invasion, and the relatively small engagement of western troops there. It amounts very approx to 550 deaths a day. Given the wide coverage given to a typical day of infighting in Baghdad resulting in roughly 40 murders a day, how is it possible that another 510 a day, every day, are being overlooked?"

Astounding as it should be, yes. They would be the many other deaths due to the disruption of society in many ways. Those of a military/militant frame of mind unfortunately do tend to overlook the fact that their preferred approach has those effects.

Steve E quoted Paul Reynolds: "...if the current rate in Baghdad is about 86 and the countrywide figure should be about 500 according to the Lancet report, where are the 'missing' dead?"

Since the figures were based on death certificates they would be wherever human remains are legitimately deposited. Those certificates are normally regarded as sufficient replacement for going digging up the bodies, gathering up the scattered ashes, etc.. They are the victims of the deaths that do not concern those whose attention is riveted by the explosions. The awful toll of a society disrupted. From the child dead of food for which there was no refrigeration since the power is no longer reliable, to those killed in unpoliced violence or shot at checkpoints.

One lesson from these figures is that the Geneva Convention protection of civilians needs extending and modernising, to remove any doubt that facilities that maintain civilian life and safety are also protected: the water, sanitation, power, policing, telephone, mass communications, food supply, education, need adding specifically to the explicit protection of hospitals and ambulances. And they all need to be actually respected, and violations not allowed to pass into history unpunished. Whoever the guilty: pilots, soldiers, Secretaries of State, Israelis, Presidents.

When the US and allies attacked Iraq, power plants, water plants, telephone exchanges and communication towers, and police facilities were all deliberately targeted. Israel additionally targets bridges, roadside petrol stations and shopping centres.

In Basra the UK forces entered the city, found order had broken down, with no power, no water, and no communications, so they withdrew to the outskirts and allowed the population to fend for themselves. How much rape, looting, murder is likely to have ensued? In international law they were responsible for that population's welfare, as the dominant power.

  • 43.
  • At 11:27 PM on 14 Oct 2006,
  • Andrew Milner wrote:

Notice how people rush to rubbish the methodology used to calculate the 655,000 Iraq addition death figure, counting from the start of the US-led invasion. Simply pedantic to quibble, when bottom line is a massive, massive war crime has been committed, largely by the US, with UK as chief henchman.
Compare with how Holocaust figures are written in stone, and any suggestion of independent verification is termed anti-Semitic. Hypocritical, is that the word I’m reaching for? That's done it. Now my firewall will light up like a Christmas tree

For those who question the validity of the survey in the Lancet, the entire paper can be seen at
(You may have to register (free) to get the document)

Rather than relying on news reports, I commend a thorough reading of the actual study. A couple of quotes may help:
"The two survey teams each consisted of two female and
two male interviewers, with the field manager (RL)
serving as supervisor. All were medical doctors with
previous survey and community medicine experience and
were fluent in English and Arabic."
"At the conclusion of household interviews
where deaths were reported, surveyors requested to see a
copy of any death certificate and its presence was
and "Survey teams asked for death
certificates in 545 (87%) reported deaths and these were
present in 501 cases. The pattern of deaths in households
without death certificates was no different from those
with certificates."

I do suggest anyone actually interested should go to the source before dubunking or otherwise.

  • 45.
  • At 09:25 PM on 15 Oct 2006,
  • rainbow wrote:

600,000 dead. No silent moments in Europe or the US to mourn the massive loss of lives. Why not? Ah, I get it, they are not of European ethnic background. Just them brown flesh (collateral damage), incinerated, barbequed and pulverized by modern machine of mass killing invented by progressive and civilized men of the free world. It is sad and shameful. Its time to disarm the world, hand cuff the arms dealers and have more women in the political arenas to check the testestorone gone wild.
Men should fight their wars in an assigned battle field, wearing boxer shorts; no gloves. The likes of Pee Wee Herman fight Pee Wee Herman and the likes of Mike Tyson fight Mike Tyson (no biting please). Equal number of fighters on each side. Winner takes the agreed upon prize. The result, few if any deaths and the earth remains uninsulted and not violated.

I would just like to add some points, as the reporter who covered this story:
1) The "pre-mails" were interesting, generally forwarded to me by Peter - but they did not influence my report. I became aware that some of them might do - the point is I do not care whether somebody complains in the aftermath about my stuff, as long as I have worked in good faith: but someone perpetually looking over their shoulder in fear of bias might have let one or other side sway them along the lines of "better stay away from that, it's controversial".
2) By far the most interesting part of the day for me was interviewing Sir Richard Peto - a statistician who had been critical of the first JH Uni report but said this one was statistically valid. He kept saying it in every answer he gave me: to me this took the story further than simply "one side's truth versus another's" - it made it credible. Note there is a difference between being credible and true.
3) On Medialens, a leftwing site that monitors the media, it was interesting to note that the forum posters were reduced to nitpicking the report - in once case helpfully, in others not. Some were angry that we "gave credence" to the critique of Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. We did exactly give it "credence" - that is we said it was a credible (and given the status of Brookings both authoritative and politically identifiable). O'Hanlon, for was just one voice (another could have been Iraq body count) which argued in favour of a different methodology for counting (passive surviellance).
4) Horrible though it may be, concetrating on stats, methodology etc is vital when trying to report on mass killings you have not seen. Vasilly Grossman, the first Soviet reporter on the scene of Treblinka, overestimated the number killed there massively - ie millions instead of the **estimated** 800,000 murdered in that one concentration camp. (See
Later Grossman revised his estimate of the number dead. When his work was read out at the Nuremerg Trials he had achieved what journalists are supposed to achieve: ie his reports were not just "credible", they were true. I am posting this also as a blog under my Idle Scrawl category.

  • 47.
  • At 02:11 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Diana (35)
The purpose of the invasion was clearly to eliminate what was believed to be the dire threat of WMDs which the US feared might be used in the US by Iraqi agents or delivered to terrorists who would accomplish the same end. Eliminating the brutal murderous dictator and his regime was an additional benefit, not the primary motive as there are many other brutal dictatorships the US does not attack. Sudan is an example.

If there were no insurgents in Iraq before the invasion, why did Saddam Hussein use poison gas on the Kurds. Any and all opposition to his regime was crushed far more brutally and indiscriminately by the old regime than anything the coalition or present government could possibly be compared to. Perpetual state terror was used to discourage would be opponents just as Stalin did. Your characterization of President Bush as an assassin could hardly be more wrong. As for him being more dangerous than the mass murderers you compared him to, I hope you never live to see the day when you learn through first hand experience just how wrong you are about that too.

Andrew (38)
The invasion was and act of President Bush protecting America and Americans which is his job, not saving Iraqis which isn't. That was a fringe benefit.

WWII was fought in Europe by America to protect America, not to save Europe because it was clear if Hitler won in Europe, an attack on America would follow. Saving Europe was also a secondary benefit. In an age of WMDs, a pre-emptive strike against a likely enemy about to attack is entirely justified. All other measures to stop Saddam Hussein had been given more than ample time and clearly failed. The indifference of other Security Council members to US dire security concerns and the UN's failure to act on the endless violations of its 17 resolutions over 12 years proves it is worthless to the US and we ought to get out immediately.

It doesn't matter whether or not the current outcome was anticipated or not, it is far preferable to what was believed to be the likely consequences for the US had it not acted.

I backed the war on the basis that the best information my government had was that Iraq presented a dire threat to my own personal security in my own country and that there was no alternative method of removing it. You and many others who believe in world government may not like it but America and Americans will NEVER relinquish sovereignty or the right to protect itself and its citizens using whatever means are necessary and available. NOBODY has a veto over the actions of the American People or their elected officials and they never will.

  • 48.
  • At 04:27 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • rcpollitz wrote:

As a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, I find that the news coverage of the Iraqi Conflict to be disturbingly familiar. Whether you consider yourself a conservative or a liberally minded individual certain social and moral values must be shared. Irresponsible use of statistics to control or influence public opinion should be of concern to all individuals. A couple of points should be considered concerning the number of civilian casualties in the Iraqi Conflict; The majority of deaths can be attributed directly to sectarian violence and not military action by the coalition forces. A second factor not discussed by the US government is that Saddam Hussein was an American creation designed to influence Irans radical Islamic movement. He was out of control and required removal for his attemped genocide of the Kurdish peoples. The reasons for the US "Invasion" are not so simplistic that the stating Al Quida influences and Weapons of mass destruction were the main reasons behind the incursion. Rather they were simply a convenient excuse used to mollify the general public in the US. Action requires public support and the US public is so apathetic and lithargic that only strong rhetoric will motivate a response.

  • 49.
  • At 06:44 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

I've now read the article in the Lancet and I am convinced that what I suspected is true, it represents a brew of distortions and omissions which leads to wrong conclusions. For example, it says on page 7; "From January 2002 until the invasion in 2003 virtually all deaths were from non violent causes." Did Saddam Hussein and his thugs stop imprisoning people, torturing, and murdering them during that period? Reportedly he killed over a million people that way, about 50,000 a year. That stopped after the war but would have added 175,000 to the death toll had the invastion not occurred. The reports of vast numbers of infant and child deaths due to deprivations resulting from the sanctions claimed anywhere from 600,000 to 2 million dead as a result. Where were those in Lancet's pre war figures? That would have added another 175,000 to 600,000 deaths had the invasion not occurred and the sanctions not been lifted. Were the Iraqis telling lies back then or are they telling them now?

From page 2; "about half the violent deaths (in 2004) occurred in Fallujah. How many of these were insurgents? And of all the violent deaths since the start of the invasion, how many were soldiers or insurgents either from Al Qaeda in Iraq, holdover Baathists, or sectarian Shiite and Sunni militiamen? Why would we care how many insurgents died? People who really want to see peace, democracy, and a departure of foreign soldiers in Iraq would say the more dead insurgents the better. But in the article, it was reported families often refused to disclose the circumstances of the deaths of male relatives of fighting age.

"Data from 1849 households that contained 12,801 individuals in 47 clusters was gathered. 1474 births and 629 deaths were reported during the observation period." And from this the data was extrapolated to a diverse population of 27 million. It seems a rather small sample to me to make such sweeping projections and draw such radical conclusions which have aroused so many passions. I'd need far more supporting evidence than that to give it any credibility.

That Saddam Hussein's brutal regime surpressed a seething propensity for sectarian violence in Iraq is not in doubt. That Al Qaeda in Iraq and others such as the government of Iran exploited the disappearance of the regime to incite and grow the flames of sectarian violence is also not in doubt. Should we have lifted sanctions without an invasion so that Saddam Hussein could pursue his policies to acquire more weapons and WMDs unfettered in order to reduce the mortality rate and should we have continued to ignore the 50,000 people a year he was torturing and killing who did not make it into the data? Was Saddam Hussein's regime supposed to be tolerated and allowed to remain in power indefinitely to keep the lid on the sectarian pressure cooker? Do we pick up and leave before the Iraqi government has the wherewithall to fight the insurgency leaving the population to face far more violence in complete anarchy than if the coalition stays? These seem to be the implied recomendations of the authors.

The obvious falacies of this article makes me wonder about the quality of Lancet's other articles dealing strictly with medical issues. This is badly flawed science as I see it.

  • 50.
  • At 03:16 AM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • asif wrote:

Latest report over Iraq seems to be cooled pouring water on to it.Report has not been introduced according to Us allies,so they are trying to push this out from media and papers,but they cann't.The situation in Iraq has not been hidden to the world ,daily hundreds of Iraqi people being slaughtered and US and it's allies are one and only one culprit of Iraqi violance.US wants every report to be made according to its hypocratic stat,but cann't conceal the truth.

  • 51.
  • At 05:46 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Ken wrote:

As someone who worked as a journalist in Iraq and now as someone who works in public relations, I can sympathise with a lot that Barron said.

It is widely accepted that the sanctions of the 1990s were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 iraqi kids. Madelein Albright was confronted about this on the record and she conceded the point.

But on the ground the story was different. You would expect the death of that many children to have made a serious impact on parents. But though I asked the question again and again, it never struck a chord with anyone. What did was the amount of lives lost in the war with Iran. I met a Slav doctor working for a group akin to MSF and he had the figures for births and chronic / other malnutrition over the period. The figures simply did not add up. He explained how you can get a good read of how good or bad malnutrition is in a place after a day or two of travelling around. In Iraq it didn't look like the kids were dying of malnutrition and the figures didn't back it up.

But tell that to Albright or Chomsky. Regarding 600k deaths, I just can't trust it. I'm not saying that a lot of people were not killed, that the occupation is proper / right etc. just that figures easily drift into the public domain and become the established wisdom.

I can't remember how the BBC covered the story, but I hope they led with 'allegedly'.

As for all the punters emailing in, well that's a part of what I do now. Even a claim of 600k deaths is a big news story, the subsequent emails would, I imagine have had quite a small effect. Though it is always interesting to hear the Media's views on would be influencers.

  • 52.
  • At 08:31 PM on 17 Oct 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

I can't help but to agree with Mark. Even if 600,000 Iraqis have died since the beginning or the war, there is nothing to say how they died. Of a population of 27 million, over 4 years, one must expect that 10% of the population could have died of old-age during that time, especially since Iraqis are not expected to live as long as some others. So, that 270,000 people would have died anyway. Many thousands of people have died at the hands of Iraqi "death squads" which can not be blamed on the Coalition. In fact, we're trying to stamp out this religion-based violence. I don't have figures in front of me but it has to be in the region of 75,000 deaths over the last few years. Starvation and lack of medical facilities was a problem before the invasion and is being steadily remedied as we stabilize areas but lets say another 150,000 have died because of this. So far we're up to nearly 500,000 and this is without any of the allied bombings or attacks on Falujia. So really, who's killing the Iraqis? Well, the answer is simply... the other Iraqis. People die and unfortunately when health care, good food and other western luxuries are not available, people die younger. I don't think 100,000 per year is an unreasonable estimate of dead due to old age and disease in the Iraqi enviroment. Yes, we've cased deaths, no question. Hundreds died when we bombed Bagdahd but mistakes happen and collateral damage is unavoidable in those situations. The insurgents we've killed are considered military targets. They're killing us, so we're going to kill them. We could have simply dropped a MOAB on Falujia and erradicated the insurgency there... maybe we should have. Most governments use the tactic of killing those around the ememy to expose the enemy. If we flattened Falujia, those not connected with the insurgents would have melted away from those that were in fear of the same.

Finally, someone give us a figure and it sounds like a high number. Why are we wusses? War is ALWAYS going to create casualites both military and civilian. When the Nazis bombed London did the German people cry out "oh no, you've just killed another 1000 British civilians tonight" I doubt it, just as we were all happy to have burned Dresden to the ground.

  • 53.
  • At 07:48 AM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Michael wrote:

Lets see if I've got this right. The study, like the one before it, sampled the death rate in a number of different areas of Iraq. These death rates were then collated together to give an overall death rate which was then extrapolated to the entire country. Is that right?

I can't believe the naivity of such an approach. The death rate is not uniform across the country. The media are constantly telling us that most of the deaths are occuring in Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle. When you sum up the death rates form the samples all over the country and then extrapolate to the country at large the net effect is that the elevated death rates in Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle are being applied across the entire country not just to Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle. Surely it makes more sense to extrapolate in each region and then sum up.

  • 54.
  • At 10:26 PM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • Hugh Waldock wrote:

I was not suggesting in my previous comment that Tony Blair is Hitler I believe his motives are strictly Christian, but some of the properganda methods used and
the redefinition of peoples perceptions and views through the manipulation of media, the reaction of some of former cabinet members such as Clare Short, and some of the very open descrimination and opposition to different members of old Labour that the Labour Party establishement showed for example in the appointment of
Alun Davis to Welsh Assembely leader and Frank Dobson to Mayor of London IS reminiscent of the kind of tactics used by the Nazi party.

Hitler was the ultimate example of personality over morality and policy and I have to say, even though Blair´s intentions were not coldly to murder Iraqi citizens the lies and surpression of opposition is not democratic and is very nazi like in quality, equally as bad as any terrorist activity.

Having said that on the domestic scene Blair has done many things right.

  • 55.
  • At 01:19 AM on 31 Oct 2006,
  • Howard wrote:

Iraq Body Count's statements do FAR more than nitpick the study's methodology.

Iraq Body Count lists a set of implications that follow from the study's results. These implications demonstrate that the Lancet numbers are absurdly high.

Lest someone write me off as a partisan on this issue, I am not a fan of the Bush administration, and frequently distrust its claims. I did not think there was a Saddam-al Qaeda link, and I opposed invading Iraq in the first place. I have no incentive to want to see accurate numbers fudged downward or upward; rather, I want our societies to have the clearest and most realistic understanding of what is going on in Iraq so that when we make decisions, they are informed decisions, the kind of decisions that have any chance of leading to a positive outcome in the real world.

You should read the Iraq Body Count statements on the Lancet numbers. The IBC information is extremely compelling, and should not be minimized or disregarded.

Don't be so defensive.

  • 56.
  • At 01:34 PM on 31 Oct 2006,
  • Themos Tsikas wrote:

"These implications demonstrate that the Lancet numbers are absurdly high" Howard wrote.

No, they don't demonstrate anything of the sort. IBC are simply out of their depth, professionally. When they get an article published in a peer-reviewed journal, we can take them seriously. Until then, the JH study stands as the best available.

As a quick common-sense test, ask yourself this: Which non-expert has "criticised" the mortality rate in the Congo and have had their criticism picked up in the mainstream media? Which non-expert is in the happy situation of having their estimates (400,000?) touted by government officials as the true death toll in that country? It just doesn't happen. It happened for Iraq, a country that is occupied by the government forces of those countries where such "criticism" is given prominence. What a coincidence!

  • 57.
  • At 12:17 AM on 01 Nov 2006,
  • Bernard wrote:

A reporter should accept no influence whatsoever from anybody when reporting the news. Only the facts of the matter should be given. ALL OF THE FACTS!

A reporter should not give a thought to what anybody else wants them to write, especially Governments.

6,000,000 or 600 Iraqis dead, is not really the issue. The issue is they are all dead because of an illegal invasion of their country, by a pair of International Criminals. What should be investigated is the crimes of these criminals. Dodgy plumbers and cowboy builders are always being exposed on the television, why not these government scammers?

What I would like to see the BBC reporting on, is the trial of Bush and Blair, and their sentences after they have been found guilty of treason and war crimes by their respective countries.

"Truth would quickly cease to become stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it."
H.L. Mencken - newspaperman

  • 58.
  • At 11:57 AM on 01 Nov 2006,
  • Themos Tsikas wrote:

Regarding the use of the word "controversial".

Could the BBC tell us on what basis is the JH study of Iraqi mortality called "controversial" (31 October, BBC News, 6pm) but the same epithet is not applied to the media report tallies of the Iraqi Body Count website?

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