Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bringing Out The Dead

No doubt the news has traveled far and wide by now: the death toll for the Iraqis stemming from our invasion and occupation is many magnitudes greater than has been reported. A new study titled “The Human Cost of the War In Iraq” conducted by a joint team of doctors from Johns Hopkins University and Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad places the number at a ghastly 654,965. From the study:

Death rates were 5.5/1,000/year pre-invasion, and overall, 13.2/1,000/year for the 40 months post-invasion.We estimate that through July 2006, there have been 654,965 “excess deaths”—fatalities above the pre-invasion death rate—
in Iraq as a consequence of the war. Of post-invasion deaths, 601,027 were due to violent causes. Non-violent deaths rose above the pre-invasion level only in 2006. Since March 2003, an additional 2.5% of Iraq’s population have died above what would have occurred without conflict.

This study was conducted by the same research group that did the 2004 study reported in the British medical journal The Lancet; a report which estimated 100,000 casualties then and was lambasted by the conservative media for its supposedly “flawed methodology”. Unfortunately for the Pro-War crowd, it looks like that first study wasn’t so far off the mark after all:

Since the 2006 survey included the period of time contained in the 2004 survey, we could compare these two results for the time frame from January 2002 through August 2004. In 2004 we estimated that somewhere in excess of 100,000 deaths had occurred from the time of the invasion until August 2004. Using data from the 2006 survey to look at the time included in the 2004 survey, we estimate that the
number of excess deaths during that time were about 112,000.

That these two surveys were carried out in different locations and two years apart from each other yet yielded results that were very similar to each other, is strong validation of both surveys.

Given that, according to General Tommy Franks, the U.S. “doesn’t do body counts” it seems awfully hard to believe that The Decider could come up with a number so far off from this study. Yet he did just that, as CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux pointed out during this morning’s presser:

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN: Thank you, Mr. President. Back on Iraq, a group of American and Iraqi health officials today released a report saying that 655,000 Iraqis have died since the Iraq war. That figure is 20 times the figure that you cited in December at 30,000. Do you care to amend or update your figure and do you consider this a credible report?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I don’t control it a credible report, neither does General Casey and neither do Iraqi officials. I do know that a lot of innocent people have died and it troubles me and grieves me. And I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence. I am, you know, amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they’re willing to — you know, that there’s a level of violence that they tolerate.

Now, I’ve read the entire study, including the appendices, and I’m very curious as to just why Bush, Casey and the ubiquitous “Iraqi officials” doubt the findings. Do they challenge the statistical model used? If so, I’d like to see that critique spelled out in detail. Do they have a better study that gives a more accurate portrayal of the death toll? Again, that information needs to be made public. We live in a putative democracy and are responsible for the violence our government commits. We have a right and a responsibility as Americans to know, as do the Iraqis.

Or could it be that what Bush, Casey and the Unknown Iraqi Officials really doubt is the political expediency of admitting to the American people and the world that this debacle has cost hundreds of thousands of lives? I certainly realize that we never went to Iraq with any intention of helping anyone but the Republican party and the Neo-conservative fantasy worldview. But many conservatives are still deluding themselves that we're on some sort of mission from God to save Iraq from itself. 650,000 dead sure sucks all the humanity right out of that humanitarian mission, does it not?

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