100,000 Iraqi Civilians Dead
By Sarah Boseley
29 October , 2004
100,000 Iraqi civilians - half of them women and children - have died
in Iraq since the invasion, mostly as a result of airstrikes by coalition
forces, according to the first reliable study of the death toll from
Iraqi and US public health experts.
The study, which
was carried out in 33 randomly-chosen neighbourhoods of Iraq representative
of the entire population, shows that violence is now the leading cause
of death in Iraq. Before the invasion, most people died of heart attacks,
stroke and chronic illness. The risk of a violent death is now 58 times
higher than it was before the invasion.
Last night the Lancet
medical journal fast-tracked the survey to publication on its website
after rapid, but extensive peer review and editing because, said Lancet
editor Richard Horton, "of its importance to the evolving security
situation in Iraq". But the findings raised important questions
also for the governments of the United Sates and Britain who, said Dr
Horton in a commentary, "must have considered the likely effects
of their actions for civilians".
The research was
led by Les Roberts of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
in Baltimore. Five of the six Iraqi interviewers who went to the 988
households in the survey were doctors and all those involved in the
research on the ground, says the paper, risked their lives to collect
the data. Householders were asked about births and deaths in the 14.6
months before the March 2003 invasion, and births and deaths in the
17.8 months afterwards.
When death certificates
were not available, there were good reasons, say the authors. "We
think it is unlikely that deaths were falsely recorded. Interviewers
also believed that in the Iraqi culture it was unlikely for respondents
to fabricate deaths," they write.
They found an increase
in infant mortality from 29 to 57 deaths per 1,000 live births, which
is consistent with the pattern in wars, where women are unable or unwilling
to get to hospital to deliver babies, they say. The other increase was
in violent death, which was reported in 15 of the 33 clusters studied
and which was mostly attributed to airstrikes.
Iraqi casualties, household interview data do not show evidence of widespread
wrongdoing on the part of individual soldiers on the ground," write
the researchers. Only three of the 61 deaths involved coalition soldiers
killing Iraqis with small arms fire. In one case, a 56-year-old man
might have been a combatant, they say, in the second a 72-year-old man
was shot at a checkpoint and in the third, an armed guard was mistaken
for a combatant and shot during a skirmish. In the second two cases,
American soldiers apologised to the families.
58 killings (all attributed to US forces by interviewees) were caused
by helicopter gunships, rockets or other forms of aerial weaponry,"
The biggest death
toll recorded by the researchers was in Falluja, which registered two-thirds
of the violent deaths they found. "In Falluja, 23 households of
52 visited were either temporarily or permanently abandoned. Neighbours
interviewed described widespread death in most of the abandoned houses
but could not give adequate details for inclusion in the survey,"
criticise the failure of the coalition authorities to attempt to assess
for themselves the scale of the civilian casualties.
Tommy Franks is widely quoted as saying 'we don't do body counts',"
they write, but occupying armies have responsibilities under the Geneva
convention."This survey shows that with modest funds, four weeks
and seven Iraqi team members willing to risk their lives, a useful measure
of civilan deaths could be obtained."