Deaths Tied To Iraq War
By Jonathan Bor
12 October, 2006
In an update of a two-year-old
survey that sparked wide disagreement, Johns Hopkins researchers now
estimate that more than a half-million Iraqis have died as a result
of the U.S.-led invasion and its bloody aftermath.
Reporting this week in the
online edition of The Lancet, a leading British medical journal, the
researchers estimated that 654,000 more Iraqis died of various causes
after the invasion than would have died in a comparable period before.
The scientists attributed
600,000 of those deaths to acts of violence.
Gunshots emerged as the leading
cause of death, accounting for 56 percent of the total. Airstrikes,
car bombs and other explosions each accounted for 13 percent to 14 percent.
Almost 60 percent of the deaths were among males 15 to 44.
"In this conflict, like
all other recent conflicts, it's the population that bears the consequences,"
said Dr. Gilbert Burnham, lead author and co-director of the Center
for Refugee and Disaster Response at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School
of Public Health.
"To put these numbers
in context, deaths are occurring in Iraq now at a rate more than three
times that from before the invasion of March 2003," he said.
With deaths increasing at
that pace, Burnham said, the crisis in Iraq qualifies as a "humanitarian
emergency," a public health term applied to situations in which
populations die at twice or more the usual rate.
The Pentagon declined to
comment on the study, saying that officials had not yet read it. Army
Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a spokesman for the Multi-National Force
in Iraq, said the force was "interested" in the study but
doesn't normally comment on Iraqi deaths.
"We're obviously trying
to reduce the amount of violence of all kinds in Iraq, but it's really
a government of Iraq issue," he said.
In August, the Defense Department
reported to Congress that the number of civilian casualties had increased
sharply, without estimating total deaths.
In 2005, however, the Bush
administration estimated that 30,000 civilians had died. A report by
the Los Angeles Times in June, based on statistics from the Iraqi Health
Ministry and the Baghdad morgue, put civilian deaths at 50,000.
To estimate deaths for this
week's report, the Hopkins group recruited Iraqi doctors to conduct
household surveys in 47 neighborhood clusters across Iraq that contained
1,849 households and 12,801 people. The doctors asked family members
to report births, deaths and the movement of people into and out of
When people reported deaths,
researchers asked them about the cause and obtained death certificates
in 92 percent of cases. The data were then projected onto the entire
nation, about 26 million people.
The Hopkins estimate is many
times higher than any other group's, including Iraq Body Count, a Web-based
organization that put the death count at 48,693 yesterday. Members of
that group, which criticized Hopkins' earlier estimate as wildly inflated,
were unavailable for comment.
Unlike the Hopkins study,
Iraq Body Count has based its estimates on reports from morgues and
the news media.
Michael O'Hanlon, a Brookings
Institution scholar who criticized the last Hopkins study, said the
method used by the Hopkins researchers this time was seriously flawed.
"The numbers are preposterously
high," he said. "Their numbers are out of whack with every
Burnham, however, said that
no one else has done a population-based survey of deaths in Iraq. "There
are people who have taken numbers reported from various facilities and
so forth, but statistically you can't [extrapolate] from various morgue
and newspaper reports to a national figure," he said.
He said the group employed
standard epidemiological methods used to estimate deaths from calamities
ranging from natural disasters such as Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina
to the bloody war in the Congo.
In its earlier study, published
in October 2004, the Hopkins group estimated that close to 100,000 people
had died in the 17 months after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
Critics attacked that study, in part, because of a wide "confidence
interval," a range within which the true number exists.
In that case, the interval
was 8,000 to 194,000 deaths, though researchers said 100,000 was most
likely the actual number.
To avoid that problem this
time, researchers increased the number of neighborhood clusters from
33 to 47. Additionally, Burnham said, by the time the second survey
was conducted, hostilities had spread more widely through the country,
reducing the possibility that the overall projection was skewed by pockets
of extreme violence.
The researchers now say that
Iraqi deaths totaled between 392,000 to 942,000. Their best estimate
In the earlier study, Iraqis
told interviewers that about a third of all deaths were caused by coalition
forces. Since then, the proportion has dropped to about a quarter -
although the absolute number of deaths has risen in each year of the
From June 2005 to June 2006,
residents attributed about 30 percent of deaths to "other"
causes, including sectarian or criminal activity, while 44 percent were
reported as "unknown."
The researchers reasserted
their earlier call for an independent body to assess deaths and monitor
compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
In a commentary, Lancet editor
Richard Horton denounced the coalition strategy but said that "absolute
despair would be the wrong response."
"Instead, the disaster
that is the West's current strategy in Iraq must be used as a constructive
call to the international community to reconfigure its foreign policy
around human security rather than national security, around health and
well being in addition to the protection of territorial boundaries and
economic stability," he said.
Sun reporter Jonathan Rockoff and the Los Angeles Times contributed
to this article.
Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun
Share Your Insights