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Controversy Over the Number of Dead in the Iraqi War

Translated Monday 16 October 2006

Death toll in Iraq. A study by American scientists showing the death toll in Iraq to be 650,000 since the beginning of the Iraqi war provokes a major storm in political circles in the United States, just one month from the mid-term elections.

“When we arrived this morning, we found the bodies”. It was a hard blow for the person in charge of Al-Chabyia, a private Iraqi satellite television station, which was to start programming at the end of the Ramadan. Yesterday morning, nine colleagues were murdered when an armed group attacked the headquarters of the station, in a neighborhood of south-eastern Baghdad. Among the dead were the main reporter of the station and the general manager, a Chiite, head of a little known non-religious party. During the same morning, a double explosion in a square at the centre of the city had killed five people. In the previous 24 hours, 40 bodies, often bearing the signs of torture, were found in various areas of the city.

A typical day, on which it is difficult to put numbers. The British medical journal “The Lancet”, has tried to put a precise number on the daily victims and reports in its latest issue that 650,000 Iraqis had been killed since the beginning of the American invasion in 2003, 601,000 of these were killed by bullet wounds. (1) An estimate that goes far beyond those supplied by the Iraqi Ministry of Health, whose latest official count amounts to 128,000 Iraqi victims of the war.

The Lancet revelations have provoked a political storm in the United States: mid-term elections are to take place in less than a month, and American citizens’ main preoccupation is the war in Iraq. George W. Bush immediately reacted to counter the Lancet numbers: “This report is not credible, General Casey (Commander of the American troops in Iraq), disagrees and so does the Iraqi administration”, he declared at a press conference.

The peer-reviewed study was conducted by physicians from John Hopkins University, together with the medical school of Mustansiriya University in Baghdad with the collaboration of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, using the same methodology as in the Congo, the Kosovo and in the Sudan. “We are 95% sure that we have the right estimate” confirmed the author of the study, Dr Gilbert Burnham, from John Hopkins University in Baltimore. Moreover he gave the following details: the study was performed in Iraq by health professionals with 1,849 Iraqi families from across the whole country, representing a total of 12,801 people and 87% of the families supplied death certificates.

The mortality rate is 13.3 people per thousand inhabitants per year since the beginning of the war compared to 5.5 per thousand before the war started. A frightening increase. The authors of the study remind us that “the Iraqi conflict is one of the most murderous of the 21st century.”

[Translator’s comment]

The UPI (United Press International) for example reports that “More than 650,000 Iraqis have died as a consequence of hostilities in Iraq as of July 2006, according to a new study by a respected British medical journal”, the Lancet on an article entitled “Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey”

The Lancet estimates that 654,965 excess Iraqi deaths have occurred since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of the country. Of this total, just over 600,000 were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire.

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