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Uncertain toll

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 12:18 UK time, Thursday, 12 October 2006

There is no debate that Iraq is a violent place. What is fiercely contested is the level of that violence.

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoYesterday the respected medical journal The Lancet published a paper suggesting that the number of people dying in the country due to violent causes is way in excess of any previous calculation. The report found that more than 600,000 people have died violently since the war in 2003 - that's 500 people a day, or one in 40 of the Iraqi population.

The report was immediately criticised as being unscientific - not least by George W Bush. It was said that extrapolating from a survey of 12,000 people was ridiculous. The people who conducted the survey countered that the work had been peer reviewed, used standard polling techniques and had been accepted as an accurate way to reflect other atrocities, such as the genocide in Rwanda.

Clearly the story was incredibly important - and the stakes were very high. That's why we decided not only to report the figures and the controversy surrounding them, but to get our science correspondent David Shukman to show the working behind them, allowing the audience to make up their own minds about whether it was an acceptable way to reach such a high figure.

Our world affairs editor, John Simpson, reached the following conclusion: "Iraq is such a violent place that it is almost impossible to tell exactly how many people are dying."

As journalists we're naturally most comfortable when we're dealing with facts - but when it's so difficult to know what the facts are, it's vital we say that too.


  • 1.
  • At 01:52 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

BBC is hardly the only organization staffed with people who a have a political agenda and use their positions of responsibility to advance it inconsistant with the organization's charter or ostensible purpose while exploiting its reputation for objectivity. Where is the investigation of the survey itself? Of how and where it was conducted? And of course of the opinions and prejudices of those who designed and conducted the survey. The results are wildly inconsistant with every other report, the largest number I've seen being about 100,000.

The purpose is clear, to continue to argue against the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime and to highlight the errors made in its aftermath in order to villify President Bush. To any thinking person, this will not wash. The decision was made because there was a nearly unanimous consensus among major intelligence agencies that all available evidence pointed to Iraq having WMDs in violation of the cease fire and 12 years of diplomacy having failed to correct it. This became more urgent in light of the events of 9-11, fear of a "nexus" of Iraq and Al Qaeda or other terrorists, and President Putin's warning to President Bush that Iraq was planning to attack the US on American soil. How conveniently all of this has been forgotten.

The number of people who died regardless of what the actual number is, is of course a tragedy. But that does not negate the correct reasoning for the invasion in the first place. It should also be realized that the overwhelming number of deaths is the direct result of violence perpetrated by Iraqis themselves and by other "Islamists" hoping to deny Iraqis the stable, peaceful, and prosperous democracy we want for them.

  • 2.
  • At 02:06 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Ritter wrote:

Craig makes some good points regarding 'facts' and when these 'facts' are disputed. Often it is useful to know the background of those who put forward an argument - it can help put their argument in context. Most people will know that Bush has, and continues to prosecute, a 'war on terror' in Iraq and has strong views on the matter. So we have some background and context to place his commentary/views on the death toll report.

Somewhat less reported perhaps is the fact that the Editor of the journal 'The Lancet', Dr Richard Horton, who published this report in the UK, has recently spoken at a 'Stop the War' rally - his speech can be viewed here:

YouTube - Dr Richard Horton - Time to Go Demo 23 Sept 2006

Horton is not a supporter of Bush's 'war on terror'.

What should be clear to your viewers and readers is that neither Bush nor Horton, have examined this matter in a detached, 'dispassionate' manner. Both have strong, opposing views. The Lancet may indeed be 'respected' but perhaps less dispassionate in this instance than at first glance.

  • 3.
  • At 02:32 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Steve E wrote:

As I remember it, John Simpson went on last night to state that a median figure between the casualty figures used by supporters and opponents of George W Bush would be around the 500,000 mark. If the BBC were to choose this figure in any future reports on the Iraqi death toll, will it be preceded by the words “controversial” or “disputed”?

  • 4.
  • At 02:34 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Sam wrote:

It seems laughable to me that Saddam hussian is facing a trial for 'genocide' when the people that sponsered it (bush and blair) are responsible for the deaths of over half a million people.

Whilst i can see it is unlikely that either of them will face charges of genocide they should at least be condemned by the U.N as war criminals becuase thats what they are.

Ironically i think the best way to get Iraq back on track is to put Saddam Hussian back in power so he can go and kill all the Al Qaeda types which is what he had been doing very effectively for the last 20 years after being put there to do exactly that job by Rumsfeld.

  • 5.
  • At 03:34 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • J.G. wrote:

From the Lancet report

Pre-invasion mortality rates were 5·5 per 1000 people per year (95% CI 4·3–7·1), compared with 13·3 per 1000 people per year (10·9–16·1) in the 40 months post-invasion.

However, according to the CIA Fact Book

The average death rate for
Afghanistan is 20.34/1000(est)
Hungary is 13.31/1000(est)
The World is 8.67/1000 (est)
The EU is 10.10/1000 (est)
US is 8.26/1000 (est)
Pakistan 8.23/1000 (est)

But Iraq stood miraculously at 5.5/1000 (est) before the invasion!

And we are supposed to trust this?

  • 6.
  • At 03:44 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • maggie wrote:

This has turned into an unmitigated disaster, I fear the true figure is higher than yesterdays report.

The biggest problem for all the polititians involved now is,
1,how the hell are we going to win this ?
2, when can we pull out ?
3, what will our legacy to Irag & her people be. ?

History will do Bush & Blair no favours at all, but this episode will be a template for future leaders on, how NOT to go to war !

I was sold on the original WMD line & believed invasion was right at the time, now I feel ashamed & guilty for what we are doing there.

  • 7.
  • At 03:49 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Dean-Adrian Evans Jnr wrote:

"600 000 DEAD"

I am a white zimbabwean male and when mugabe attacked our farms i fought back, i did not fight back because i was racists, i fought back because my land was being attacked and my people were being slaughtered, i was not polictally orientated by any means but when my land which is no longer my land gets ripped away from me and my woman and children and beaten and raped while the world turns a blind eye, I too fought back, i now feel for the 600 000 dead people, yet it still dose not phase the world about whats really going on, out of that 600 000 people how many were woman and children, how many were ordinary men and woman working 9-5 to feed their familes,

  • 8.
  • At 05:36 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Glynn wrote:

[quote] * 3.
* At 02:32 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
* Steve E wrote:

As I remember it, John Simpson went on last night to state that a median figure between the casualty figures used by supporters and opponents of George W Bush would be around the 500,000 mark. If the BBC were to choose this figure in any future reports on the Iraqi death toll, will it be preceded by the words “controversial” or “disputed”?

How does 500,000 get to be the median when there has only been one report,that I am aware of, that has put the number of casualties above that figure?

  • 9.
  • At 05:50 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Bradley wrote:

Yes, it is very important to talk numbers, when you have an agenda.

Afterall, Bush's 30,000 dead is so much better than 650,000, unless of course, one of the family members is one of them. Then it doesn't matter so much.

30,000 dead, with additional deaths each and every day is proof of the failed objectives.



  • 10.
  • At 07:32 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Orville Eastland wrote:

"Everyone" believed that Iraq had WMD?
The US, UK and UNSCOM were informed by Iraqi defector Hussein Kamil that Iraq had destroyed all known stocks of WMD.
This was in 1995.
Former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter stated that Iraq was in fact disarmed of all known weapons and that no WMD programs were extant in 2000.
True, numerous people on both sides of the political spectrum in the UK and USA supported the war and stated that Iraq had WMD. However, given the sources cited above the evidence shows that the belief in WMD was merely a pretext for invading Iraq.

As for the survey, individuals have criticized both the Lancet survey (without citing evidence) and the Iraq Body count (again, without citing evidence). The US Government states that it does not do "Body Counts", though General Tommy Franks told Bob Woodward that the US military estimated 30,000 deaths of Iraqi civillians in the invasion alone. Is "The Lancet" accurate? I'm not sure. Are they biased? Maybe. Do they deserve the same treatment as Bush? Absolutely.

  • 11.
  • At 07:43 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Glynn wrote:

The report published in The Lancet is all about numbers,in fact it is only about numbers.

So who has the agenda?

  • 12.
  • At 08:20 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Raj wrote:

This was a most scientific study.

Even doing some simple math - will convince you of the results. In Baghdad itself for last 1 year now - on average 60-100 bodies are dumped on the streets, canals, rivers every day. Add to that bodies that are not dumped on streets - but people killed on streets or in their homes by bombs, sectarian militias etc.

This easily gives a figure of 50,000 people killed in Baghdad itself - in just last 1 year.

So which study should we beleive -- one conducted by John Hopkins - subject to peer review -- or some study conducted by Carl Rove or Rumsfield ?

In fact , the international coomunity has been lax and guilty of not demanding an accurate count of Iraqis killed as a result of the invasion and occupation.

  • 13.
  • At 08:27 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Raj wrote:

The poison gas attack by Sadaam regime on Halabja, during the Iran-Iraq war is reported to have killed between 700-5000 people.
source :

This is often referred to as genocide of the kurds.

The Sadaam regime had accused the Kurds of Halabja for having given refuge to Iran army.

After Sadaam is hanged and buried for his crimes- I hope the world community finds out who is responsible for the death and dis-memberment of at least 1/2 million Iraqis.

  • 14.
  • At 08:39 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

In response to #1 if you watched the Newsnight report on Wednesday night the BBC DID question the methodology behind the report and how the survey was conducted. It was made very clear from the outset that many objected to the methodology used in the report.

  • 15.
  • At 09:52 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

J.G: I agree thats odd, but look at the other figures, over half are below the United States (119 countries). I don't claim to understand it, I just think there must be a very good reason why so many countries have such a low mortality rate and the US and UK are relatively high.


  • 16.
  • At 09:52 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • anon wrote:



Yeah, we should go back to the nutcase's preferred way that was observed during the Clinton years, and which led to 9/11 because Bin Laden saw that the US would do nothing in response to his terror attacks. Not to mention the complete failure of appeasement and "talk to Hitler instead of fighting him" that people like Bradley would advocate.

If Mark -- or anyone else -- is genuinely interested in the survey methods and their rationale, they can read the document at

(free registration required).

It includes a discussion of why the figures thus arrived at are so much higher than those reached by other counts; they say,

'Our estimate of excess deaths is far higher than those reported in Iraq through passive surveillance measures. This discrepancy is not unexpected. Data from passive surveillance are rarely complete, even in stable circumstances, and are even less complete during conflict, when access is restricted and fatal events could be intentionally hidden. Aside from Bosnia, we can find no conflict situation where passive surveillance recorded more than 20% of the deaths measured by population-based methods. In several outbreaks, disease and death recorded by facility-based methods underestimated events by a factor of ten or more when compared with population-based estimates. Between 1960 and 1990, newspaper accounts of political deaths in Guatemala correctly reported over 50% of deaths in years of low violence but less than 5% in years of highest violence. Nevertheless, surveillance tallies are important in monitoring trends over time and in the provision of individual data, and these data track closely with our own findings.'

Their findings are peer-reviewed; that is, several independent experts have checked their research and methods, and consider them valid. Can the same be said for other counts?

  • 18.
  • At 12:12 AM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

Surely publications such as The Lancet and organisations such as the BBC have a responsibility to make clear at the time of publication that figures are estimated: furthermore the basis of the estimates should be given and the possible inaccuracy. If they cannot do this they should say that there are no reliable figures.
It only takes one incident like this to shake the confidence of the viewer/listener in the publisher.
This correspondence is very informative and very disturbing.

  • 19.
  • At 03:18 AM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Lzrhk wrote:

The Lancet put out similar figures prior to our 2004 election based on a similar "study."

Now a few weeks prior to our mid-term elections they are at it again but now using figures supplied by an American "study".

Will the Brits at the Lancet ever learn that trying to influence other nation's national elections can come back and punch them in the face?

Don't they remember that their boy Kerry lost in 2004 in spite of their dishonorable meddling?

If the idiots at the Lancet want to meddle in politics they should do it in their own country, or better yet, be accountable and run for office.

  • 20.
  • At 03:59 AM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • RDJRDJ wrote:

The dispute over this report masks a larger problem.

Q: do you, as a citizen, feel like you have the information you need to make the momentus decisions on whether and how to stay on in Iraq? I say momentus, because it is probably as important a question as the decision to topple Saddam.

I don't feel that I do. I hear dire reports from one direction, then I get assessments that sectarian violence is limited to certain areas, even.

The fact is that we do not get any kind of systematic, accurate assessment of advance or retreat from Iraq.

Therefore, we argue over the little bits and pieces of information we do have and what they *might* imply. We also argue endlessly about what 'principles' were right to apply.

Why can't we stop arguing and get prgamatic, deman the ino we need?:

-breakdown, for each province (18 in all)
-five metrics, or so, for each step (there is more to measuring things than body-count!)
-projections and required force-levels and inter-agency tasks

The citizens during the Blitz had a better idea of whether they were moving forward or not than we do about Iraq!

  • 21.
  • At 06:16 AM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Haedeh wrote:

In response to comment #5,

If you look up Iraq in CIA fact book,
they put the death rate in Iraq at 5.23 per 1000.

It would be inconcievable that this is the rate after Iraq was occupied, we may assume that it is the rate before occupation.

Why it was lower than world average?

Many explanations:

One is the following:

Iraq was a relatively well off developing nation. This means huge popluation growth with relatively good health care. Remember young people normally do not die as often as old people in time of peace.

And your health care does not have to be that good to make young survive.

For this reason Europe has a higher than average mortality rate while it has one the best social structures in the world.

Another explanation:

Perhaps infant mortality was not reported. Poll takers did notice this after occupation, it may have been true for before as well. If some families live in remote areas where registering new born infants takes time and meanwhile the newborn dies they may not bother to report it.

It was interesting that you did not bother to check CIA fact sheet about Iraq. Because if 5.5 per 1000 seems outlandish before occupation it should seem outlandish for after as well. CIA fact sheet is not an old knowing god they get the facts mostly by government issued statistics if they exists or they rely on much less reliable sources.


  • 22.
  • At 08:16 AM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Warren wrote:

The number does seem huge.

I don't know that any ordinary citizen has a good basis for judging whether it is realistic or not.

I do observe that, as usual with humans, those who don't like the conclusion want to damn the report, the methodology, and the people who conducted the study, the people who reviewed it and the people who published it. And opponents of the war want to believe it's true.

None of the observations I've seen in the postings are a convincing indictment of the methodology, or the people. Some do raise some questions that should be answered. Some authoritative, non-agenda'd person should look at reasons for differences in death-rate estimates and what they're based on. So far that doesn't impugn the methodology of this study.

In the world of real science, this study would be replicated by multiple different independent teams--who have no agenda.

It does seem like a medical journal and their associated scholars, experts, statisticians, etc., well-known for its rigorous standards, is less likely to be exercising an agenda than the Bush Administration is. The possible bias of the editor is exactly why you have peer review. The Bush Administration, on the other hand, is not known for its scientific rigor or lack of bias. That doesn't mean that the study is without question--but there is certainly more scientific credibility on the side of the scientists.

It does seem like governments are trying to characterize the study as wacko (the language they use for damning it should tell you something about whether they have an agenda), and they're making their case by comparing to a totally different kind of data--the incomplete and sketchy info that you get from body counts at morgues and from asking soldiers "so how many did you kill today?" This seems very likely to be very inaccurate.

The sketchiness of that data is the very reason why this study was conducted--to try to get a more reliable number using valid and well-established and proven statistical methods. It seems like a worthwhile thing to do--I for one think it is a good idea for any public to know the real results of a course of action. Surely it informs us somehow.

Note that the study does not blame anybody. It says nothing about whether or not it is Iraqis killing Iraqis, or U.S. troops killing Iraqis, or ____ killing ____...only that there were certain increases in deaths due to violence--compared to before the invasion.

Some argue "Well, you can't blame Bush if Iraqis start killing each other--that's their fault, not Bush's." Well, yes it's true, when an Iraqi kills an Iraqi, it's his fault, not Bush's, that he did it in that situation. But the existence of the whole situation is a consequence of Bush's choice to go the route of war at the particular time. It seems pretty hard to deny that. I would be remiss if I didn't remind you that this consequence was largely predicted by many people who understood the mid-east from their own experience--insight and experience ignored and suppressed by the Bush administration.

But still, the question addressed by the study is simply, "What was the death rate before the invasion, and what has it been since?" If you don't want to admit that the situation is a consequence of Bush's choices, then it seems like you have to just say all the killing is because the Iraqis are a bunch of barbarians who would have been killing each other by now anyway. And that assertion hardly seems credible.

Finally, my own discomfort with the casualty number comes from a couple things. Oe is the sheer size. That's a LOT of deaths. And the other thing is that it's hard for me to judge its realism, one way or the other, since I haven't been there myself. I DO know that the Bush Administration has been suppressing all KINDS of information about the reality in Iraq. If there really has been this number dying daily, then the situation has been more hideous than even I imagined. Note that what we ALL think has been going on in Iraq, has been, for each of us, largely in our own imaginations. We don't really know, what it's been like, because it's been impossible to get valid reports about conditions. My head tells me to trust the science, but my gut tells me, "Boy, somebody really needs to verify this, because if it's true...." Also note that this lack of accurate portrayal of reality in Iraq is by design. Truth is the first casualty of war. It has always been thus.

  • 23.
  • At 10:27 AM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • rainbow wrote:

War (indlucing civil war/sectarian conflict) is about revenge -- disgustingly so. How many more innocent Iraqis and Coalition forces must die to avenge for the death of 3,000 human beings? How much blood will quench the thirst of these war mongers whose children are in the safety of their leafy neighbourhood whilst they put others in harms way? These war mongers are truly violent men who use weapon of mass destruction, which all war machinery are, to achieve their goal. They have no regard for the lives of the innocent civilians who are caught in the middle because these people do not belong to their race, ethnic and religious groups. Whether its 600,000 or more or less is immaterial. The fact is that innocent people are dying and those responsible for their safety (under the UN guideline) are not doing their job.

  • 24.
  • At 11:12 AM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • marc wrote:

Given the recent news that the reporter Terry Lloyd was unlawfully killed, I wonder if our government will have the guts to get the suspects extradited to the UK for trial. I suspect they will never be bought to justice and the relationship is purely a one-way street

  • 25.
  • At 12:33 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Sam Hawkins` wrote:

There are two points to note:

1. George Bush and Tony Blair are not statisticians. Just because they criticise something does not automatically make it a "controversial method". Tony Blair had no problem quoting mortalities in the Congo using the figures produced by the same team using the same methods.

Picking 'median figures' as John Simpson did, in between various estimates based on different methods has no scientific validity whatsoever.

2. You can't simly criticise this estimate because it is "higher than others". Either it is based on a valid scientifc process, or it isn't. If it isn't - challenge it. The author's political views have no bearing on the method or content, and cannot be used to challenge its result. The fact that it is higer than others only highlights the appalling lack of other credible estimates. Estimates produced by groups such as the Iraq Body Count can easily be shown to vastly underestimate the number of deaths.

The BBC is beeing manipulated by its attempt to be seen to be taking a "balanced view" which involves treating internationally peer-reviewed scientific estimates, and non-reviewed statements by politicians, with equal weighting.

  • 26.
  • At 12:41 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Stephen Jones wrote:

The death rate in countries at peace and without high infant mortality, is dependent on the population pyramid. If there are more old people than youngsters, as is common in the West, then it will be quite high. If there are a lot of youngsters than it will be low. That is why the Iraqi death rate was well below the US one, and why the Saudi death rate is only 30% of the American one.

The survey seems clear; it looks very much like there is a massive cover up going on, particularly as the majority have death certificates (and in other cases probably originally had them). One possibility is that the families didn't want to be part of the official statistics because they were afraid of the consequences.

  • 27.
  • At 01:31 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

Warren: Just have to say, thats a very good post. Well thought out. I agree that scientists are more likely to be qualified than the general population are to judge how realistic these figures are. Sure, it could be out by 100,000 or 200,000 but thats still an awful lot of people.

  • 28.
  • At 02:04 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • James H McCann wrote:

I think the Lancet vainglorious for engagement in the sociopolitical disaster of the decade (if not the century); the thing is far too toxically political. To maintain credibility in the medical information sphere were far far far more important than enlightening the world about the scale of homicide in Iraq. the world has very few trusted medical data vectors; these body counts can be done by others. In future if a publication of similar stature desires to make substantial & influential commentary on the Iraq catastrphe it ought, I think, to examine the recent NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC piece on the Kurds which is in appearance a typical NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC article, one of those comfortable high-class socio-anthropological tourist pieces the magazine is famous for; in fact a devastatingly detailed and accurate report of "boots on the ground" conditions in a most strategically critical section of Iraq, that demolishes the American Administration's fantasies. The entire impact and import of the piece is elegantly conveyed in one simple observation, made amidst reports of Kurdish ferment of constructing their own state, that the roads to Baghdad are not being repaired at all....
BTW Americans are barely informed as to Iraq realities; they have been monstrously betrayed by the right-wing crypto-Fascist cabal now in power. 2008 cannot come fast enough. (I am an American yellow-dog RFK Democrat Liberal and I cherish antique concepts named "public health" & "civil rights").

  • 29.
  • At 02:08 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

NotSaussure (17)
It is hard to believe that there were only 5.5 deaths per 100,000 before the invasion when you consider the endless claims we heard that sanctions were killing millions of Iraqi children and should have been dropped. We know the oil for food program was a failure because of widespread corruption in major UN member states like France, Russia, Germany, and China circumventing them and diversion of billions of dollars of the revenues which should have been spent on food and medicine by Saddam Hussein to military equipment, palaces, and other luxuries for himself and his friends. How could a nation deprived of food and medicine for so long have had a much lower death rate then the wealthiest industialized nations? This is clearly a case of lying. And I do not discount the propensity of many Iraqis to lie again to support a political agenda. In short, I don't believe a word of it.

Orville Eastland (10)
The Iraqis lied perpetually about their WMD program. The cease fire signed in 1991 required Iraq to disclose, allow inspection of, and destroy ALL of its WMDs and related materials. But its nuclear weapons program didn't even come to light until 1995 when the head of it, Saddam Hussein's brother-in-law defected to Jordan and disclosed it to the world. Iraq played cat and mouse with the UN inspectors for nearly 12 years until the US sent troops to Kuwait threating invasion. They still played games. Who would believe that Iraq had destroyed WMD materials such as VX they were known to have when they said they destroyed them without outside witnesses or any records? Israeli intelligence reported large convoys of trucks headed for Syria just before the invasion and that is where the materials are suspected to be now. Even Saddam Hussein's own generals believed he had WMDs. The invasion was postponed until the very last possible moment at which point the weather was becoming much hotter making fighting in chemical weapons gear all but impossible. The large force the US assembled in Kuwait was unsustainable until the weather changed again later in the year and the Iraqis knew it. That is what they were stalling for, hoping the US would have to leave the region and the sanctions would be lifted so that the WMD programs could resume unfettered by anyone.

The invasion was 100% correct, it was the ONLY rational course of action, and the mission to remove Saddam Hussein from power along with the Baathist party was accomplished just as President Bush said it was. The aftermath is another story altogether but there is no doubt the world is a safer place today than it would be on account of it..

  • 30.
  • At 03:35 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Roland Deschain wrote:

Where on Earth have the 600,000 bodies been hidden? With the WMD?

  • 31.
  • At 01:00 AM on 14 Oct 2006,
  • Andrew wrote:

Post #30 said, "Where on Earth have the 600,000 bodies been hidden?"

They were probably buried. It's the normal course of events for dead people.

Mark (29); The sources for the pre-invasion mortality rate quoted by the study are the CIA World Factbook 2003 and the US Agency for International Health and US Census Bureau. Global population profile: 2002.

As to the Iraqi informants lying, the authors write, 'At the conclusion of household interviews where deaths were reported, surveyors requested to see a copy of any death certificate and its presence was recorded.' They continue, '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.'

In the discussion, they address the possibility that people were lying to them, commenting 'Families could have reported deaths that did not occur, although this seems unlikely, since most reported deaths could be corroborated with a certificate. However, certificates might not be issued for young children, and in some places death certificates had stopped being issued; our 92% confirmation rate was therefore deemed to be reasonable.'.

  • 33.
  • At 02:21 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Notsaussure (32)
Whether the statistics were published in the CIA facts book or in the Talmud, they were wrong. A nation most of whose population is deprived of food and medicine for an extended period as Iraq was, cannot have a lower mortality rate than the most industrialized nations in the world. It dosen't even make sense. It wouldn't be the first time CIA data about a secret society was wrong. And the only reason it is even important is because it is useful now to draw this false distinction to bash America and its policies. The claims in the Lancet are pure rubbish.

As is typical of America bashers of all stripes, you use information selectively. Your contention is that the CIA was right about the death rate but wrong about WMDs. The Director of the CIA told President Bush that Iraq having WMDs was a "slam dunk" (American vernacular for absolute certainty.) Was he right about that too? Your arguement makes no more sense than Lancet's article.

  • 34.
  • At 07:07 PM on 16 Oct 2006,
  • Adam wrote:

Interesting article, Craig. However, I think you missed a trick in your coverage of this story. When the figures were published in The Lancet, Bush unsurprisingly said that the figures were "not credible". However, as far as I can tell, he didn't say why. Did he think there was a fault in their statistical methods? Did he think their sampling procedures produced a biased sample? Did he think that the researchers were fraudulent? It would have been interesting to get onto the White House and try to find out on what specific grounds they were criticising the study. If, as I rather suspect, they have no specific grounds other than "well, we'd quite like the numbers not to be that high", then that would have been just as worthy of reporting.

  • 35.
  • At 01:36 PM on 18 Oct 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

“most comfortable when we're dealing with the facts” - seems to be very reasonable.
Most excited, imaginative, creative, and competitive when facts are not available: or so it seems only too often.
Not being able to do the impossible is not a crime: not very remunerative, either, I suppose.

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