Friday, March 21, 2008

Five years, how many bodies?

I must admit that I didn't look very hard, but I didn't see any pieces in American media this week about the Iraqi death toll from the war in Iraq. The Guardian, however, has an excellent piece discussing the disparate estimates of the death toll. The counts range from the extremely conservative Iraq Body Count number of between 80,000 and 90,000, to as high as about a million and a half. The article delves into the epistemological and methodological nitty-gritty of the surveys, which is the type of critical science reporting that you don't see often enough in the American media. From the last two paragraphs of the article, a jarring conclusion:
Alas for Bush and Blair, most statisticians do not support their case. Nor can any journalist or other independent witness who has seen the pain of the bereaved still living in post-invasion Iraq or the millions who have escaped to Jordan and Syria. Estimates of the Iraqi deaths caused by Saddam's regime amount to a maximum of one million over a 35-year period (100,000 Kurds in the Anfal campaign in the 1980s; 400,000 in the war against Iran; 100,000 Shias in the suppressed uprising of 1991; and an unknown number executed in his prisons and torture chambers). Averaged over his time in power, the annual rate does not exceed 29,000.

Only the conservatively calculated Iraq Body Count death toll credits the occupation with an average annual rate that is less than that - some 18,000 deaths in the five years so far. Every other source, from the WHO to the surveys of Iraqi households, puts the average well above the Saddam-era figure. Those who claim Saddam's toppling made life safer for Iraqis have a lot of explaining to do.

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