I admit to being stunned when I heard, over CBC Radio, of a report in The Lancet that more than a half-million Iraqis died
as a result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
American and Iraqi public health experts have calculated that about 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion and subsequent violence, far above previous estimates.
Researchers used household interviews rather than body counts to estimate how many more Iraqis had died because of the war than used to die annually in peacetime.
"We estimate that as a consequence of the coalition invasion of March 18, 2003, about 655,000 Iraqis have died above the number that would be expected in a non-conflict situation," said Gilbert Burnham of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the United States.
This figure, as the researchers suggest, include not only people who have died as a direct result of the invasion and its multiple successor conflicts, but also people who have died as indirect consequences, for instance as a result of the breakdown of the health system and the spread of epidemic disease.
The figures are based on a survey conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins and Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad between May and June of 1,849 households including 12,801 household members in 47 randomly selected sites across Iraq.
They questioned the inhabitants about births, deaths, and migrations. The same survey methods were used to measure mortality in other conflict areas such as the Congo, Kosovo and Sudan, according to the researchers.
The death rate in Iraq rose to 13.3 per 1000 people per year from 5.5 per year before the invasion, according to the study.
Other estimates based on think tank figures and media sources calculate the number of extra Iraqi deaths to be much lower. The Iraq Body Count Database says between 43,850 and 48,693 civilians have died since the invasion.
"Our total estimate is much higher than other mortality estimates because we used a population-based, active method for collecting mortality information rather than passive methods that depend on counting bodies or tabulated media reports of violent deaths," Burnham said.
The coverage of The Lancet
report on Crooked Timber, here
, is perhaps less critical of the report's methodology than it should be. While the effective collapse of the Iraqi state and its data-collecting agencies has quite possibly made official state figures on reported dead unreliable, especially given the failure to collect unique identifiers, there's the strong possibility that the researchers' estimate is excessively high, double- or triple-counting the said dead person in the final tolls. Then again, six hundred dead a day isn't particularly high by the standards of a Hobbesian civil war fought by paramilitary forces with little respect for human life in a region of mixed populations. Then again, when you're dealing with tens if not hundreds of thousands of civilians dead, isn't disputing the precise number of dead petty when there's broad agreement on the scale of the tragedy?
The United States, and to a lesser extent its allies, of course must bear a considerable share of responsibility for this tragedy, as any powers occupying a country that they're claiming to rebuild for the good of its citizens must. The sheer success of the remarkable mixture of incompetence, indifference, and malice
felt towards Iraqis and their sufferings by the people in a position to do something is terrifying. In an ideal world, these people, who so calmly made a needless sacrifice of so many lives in the name of a nebulous and never-to-materialize present, would be punished. It goes almost without saying that ours is not an ideal world. Posterity's judgement will come much too late for the people dying now, alas.
One final thought for the night. If the figures quoted in The Lancet
are roughly accurate, two hundred Iraqis have died for every person killed in the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Iraq, mind, is a country uninvolved in those terrorist attacks, is in fact a country that was invaded in the name of helping--not exterminating--the Iraqi population. I don't want to imagine what would be going on in Iraq now if the United States went in with explicitly malign intent. The clash of civilizations is ongoing; the United States, and the West, are definitely winning.