Lott on Baghdad murders

In a June 26 op-ed Lott claimed that gun ownership was making Iraqis safer:

“Yet, despite Iraqis owning machine guns and the country still not under control, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed out that Baghdad is experiencing fewer murders than Washington, D.C., where handguns are banned. ”

Lott was taken to task by Wyeth who pointed that Rumsfeld had no evidence for his claim and that in fact Baghdad suffered 20 times as many gunshot murders as Washington in July. Previous discussion is here.

An October 12 Newsday story reports:

Perhaps the most hopeful change appeared several days ago in the office of Dr. Faiq Amin Bakr, director of the Institute of Judicial Medicine, Baghdad’s main morgue. Mulling a new sheet of statistics, he declared that Baghdad’s exploding homicide rate fell last month, the first monthly decline since the Americans arrived.

The morgue counted 667 homicide victims in September, down from 800 in August and 702 in July. But even the September rate is 42 times the rough average recorded last year. And the bloodshed – from crime, revenge killings, shootings of civilians by U.S. troops or guerrilla fighters – is some degree higher than what the morgue measures, because an unknown number of homicide victims are buried without being brought to the morgue.

The Coalition decided they had better do something about the horrendous homicide rate. On October 19 PR Newswire reported:

In Baghdad, official control over the news is getting tighter. Journalists used to walk freely into the city’s hospitals and the morgue to keep count of the day’s dead and wounded. Now the hospitals have been declared off-limits and morgue officials turn away reporters who aren’t accompanied by a Coalition escort. Iraqi police refer reporters’ questions to American forces; the Americans refer them back to the Iraqis.


Reported crime in the Iraqi capital this year.

  July Aug. Sept. Oct.
Murder 92 75 54 24
Kidnapping 29 28 27 11
Aggravated Assault 135 118 90 40

The new Coalition policy appears to have worked. On Nov 10, The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reported the latest (presumably official) crime statistics, which show that in October the number of homicides in Baghdad fell to just 24 (see table to left).

However, it is clear that the official figures only include a tiny fraction of all homicides. In September the official figures show just 54 homicides, but 667 homicide victims showed up at the morgue. Note also that there were supposedly just 78 aggravated assaults, which seems most implausible. For comparison, metro Washington, with about the same population as Baghdad, has about 30 homicides and 1,000 aggravated assaults each month.

I think any reasonable person would conclude that the official crime figures for Baghdad are not accurate. Not John Lott, however. On his blog (link under “Blogs” in sidebar, scroll to 11/10/03) he trumpets “Rumsfeld vindicated” and asserts that the new crime figures prove that the homicide rate in Baghdad is relatively low. Although he is well aware of it from previous discussion, he completely ignores the contradictory statistics from the Baghdad morgue. Unfortunately, this behaviour is typical of the way Lott approaches research—he just reports results favourable to his thesis and ignores the unfavourable ones.

My thanks to Seb for providing me with a copy of the WSJ article.

Update: The New York Times reports the following figures on the Baghdad murder rate:

April June August October
Annualized Murder
Rate in Baghdad
per 100,000
100 135 185 140

This is many times greater than metro Washington’s rate of 7.9 per 100,000 population.


  1. #1 Seb
    November 12, 2003

    Not mentioned by Lott, fwiw, are also reports that US forces have “confiscated more than 100,000 weapons,
    including 14,000 automatic rifles, in addition to one million hand grenades, 60 million bullets and a large number of rocket propelled grenades.”

    Less guns, less crime?

  2. #2 Dick Durata
    November 12, 2003

    One of the first of many ‘post war’ blunders was not disarming, as much as possible, the populace, and not securing ammunition dumps. I recall a dump blowing up soon after the war ended, and many Iraqis were killed. My immediate response to that was ‘Why wasn’t the dump secured?’. We now know that they still have not all been secured.
    What Lott and the right wing fantasy team had to do with this failure may not be known, but the blunder is costing us American lives.

  3. #3 Seb
    November 12, 2003

    It appears that Lott and the WSJ are happy to serve as the official propaganda arms of the CPA’s, uh, lies?

    “Chairman of the Institute Faik Emin Bekir said that 3,513 murders by unknown perpetrators have been officially registered since the day the war ended. This number includes bodies found by the police and brought to the forensic medicine institute. The institute, which mainly dealt with deaths resulting from work and traffic accidents during Saddam’s rule, sheds some light on murders after the war. Bekir notes that murder statistics have reached the highest level in 40 years. Deaths caused by gunshot wounds were almost none before the war, he said.”


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