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Thursday, January 10, 2008 

Counting and recounting the bodies.

How much is a life worth is a question that is impossible to answer. We can however debate the numbers of deaths themselves, and to re-utter an almost cliched quote, one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.

The latest attempt to get close to an accurate number of those killed since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, this time by the World Health Organisation and the Iraqi health ministry, comes to the conclusion that the most likely figure is 151,000, although it could be anything from 104,000 and 223,000. This is a considerable reduction on the numbers cited by the previous Lancet study, which found more than 600,000 deaths assignable to violence. The Lancet study has since been expanded upon and attempted to be kept up to date by organisations like Just Foreign Policy, which using the Iraq Body Count figures extrapolates that the toll may now be as high as 1,165,204. This latest study only calculates deaths between the invasion and June 2006, just around when the violence in the country was reaching its height before declining last year thanks to the establishment of the "Awakening councils" and to a lesser extent to the "surge", as well as the blocking off of communities on sectarian lines.

Les Gilbert, one of the academics involved in the Lancet study has submitted his immediate criticisms of the WHO estimate, and he rather predictably thinks that the study underestimates the number of deaths, due in part to how this study uses government employees which those visited in the samples would not necessarily want to admit deaths to, and also wasn't able to survey 10.6% of the households planned because of the security situation. These houses were in the Anbar province and in Baghdad, two of the most insecure and restive areas of the country. The figures from those were instead calibrated using Iraq Body Count, which itself admits is a underestimate of the number of deaths based on media reports.

If we go for a median figure between the two to address the discrepancies, we still have a figure of around 325,000 deaths attributable directly to the US/UK invasion. Some will point towards the sectarian violence as the main factor rather than military action itself, but when you get the US army boasting of dropping 40,000lb of explosives on "al-Qaida targets" just today, with civilians bound to be caught up in such blase assaults, you can't help but conclude that there is simply no way to be able to assign the huge of numbers of deaths to their definitive cause. In any case, all of these deaths are occurring under a continuing occupation and under a situation which would not have taken place had it not been for an invasion and war classed as illegal by the ex-UN secretary general.

The fact is we were sold or attempted to be sold this war under both humanitarian grounds and on the basis that the death toll would be minute, especially compared to those killed under Saddam's tyrannical reign. Almost 5 years on, the death toll from while the country was under his yoke, widely argued over but which is likely to be around 300,000 if you exclude the death toll from the Iraq/Iranian war, and that figure is likely to have already been equaled. That is the biggest indictment of this disaster that will haunt us for decades to come.

Related posts:
Lenin's Tomb - Iraq mortality studies
Juan Cole - 250,000 Civilians Dead in Bush's War?

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