Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Iraq Death Toll: 655,000 People

Y'all got that number?

655,000

Human Beings

Human beings who would not have died if the US invasion of Iraq had not occurred.

That's a lot of mothafuckin' people - and I'm understating things considerably.

That is mindblowing to say the least.

Here's some clips of the WaPo article just to give you the gist:

A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred.

The estimate, produced by interviewing residents during a random sampling of households throughout the country, is far higher than ones produced by other groups, including Iraq's government.

It is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech in December. It is more than 10 times the estimate of roughly 50,000 civilian deaths made by the British-based Iraq Body Count research group.

The surveyors said they found a steady increase in mortality since the invasion, with a steeper rise in the last year that appears to reflect a worsening of violence as reported by the U.S. military, the news media and civilian groups. In the year ending in June, the team calculated Iraq's mortality rate to be roughly four times what it was the year before the war.

Of the total 655,000 estimated "excess deaths," 601,000 resulted from violence and the rest from disease and other causes, according to the study. This is about 500 unexpected violent deaths per day throughout the country.

The survey was done by Iraqi physicians and overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. The findings are being published online today by the British medical journal the Lancet.

The same group in 2004 published an estimate of roughly 100,000 deaths in the first 18 months after the invasion. That figure was much higher than expected, and was controversial. The new study estimates that about 500,000 more Iraqis, both civilian and military, have died since then -- a finding likely to be equally controversial.

Both this and the earlier study are the only ones to estimate mortality in Iraq using scientific methods. The technique, called "cluster sampling," is used to estimate mortality in famines and after natural disasters.

While acknowledging that the estimate is large, the researchers believe it is sound for numerous reasons. The recent survey got the same estimate for immediate post-invasion deaths as the early survey, which gives the researchers confidence in the methods. The great majority of deaths were also substantiated by death certificates.

If you're curious about the method of cluster sampling, a decent quick and dirty description can be found at wikipedia. When I teach sampling techniques in my methods and stats courses, we spend some time discussing different forms of sampling - in the process distinguishing between probability and nonprobability sampling. Probability sampling I define as involving selecting participants in such a way that the odds of their being in the study are known or can be calculated (and includes methods such as simple random sampling, stratified random sampling, and cluster sampling). In a study such as the ones examining the Iraq war death toll, external validity is crucial (that is, can I actually take my findings and apply them to the population that I wish to generalize to), and methods such as cluster sampling maximize that form of validity. That the authors were also generally successful in backing up their analyses with actual death certificates goes even further in establishing the validity of their research.

That the findings seem to be valid gives the reader some idea of the human suffering inflicted by the US-led war against the Iraqis. Think of it this way: the 655,000 death toll in Iraq since March 2003 would be akin to the US suffering approximately 7 million deaths as a result of a foreign invasion and occupation. Perhaps that'll put things in perspective just a bit.

That doesn't even begin to cover the suffering of those who've been wounded, displaced, lost loved ones, etc. Suffice it to say, the toll in Iraq has been enormous, and like it or not we Americans are responsible.

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