Last time I commented on Lott’s claims about the Baghdad murder rate, I noted his pathological refusal to admit that he was wrong about the rate. Even though dozens of newspapers have reported that there are hundreds of murders each month in Baghdad (see the table with some of the stories at the end of this post), Lott insisted that the one single report he found that claimed that there were only 24 murders in October must be right and all the others must be wrong. He has now drafted on op-ed repeating his claim and complaining that the New York Times refused to print a “correction”.
Lott’s arguments about why all the other reports are wrong have to be seen to be believed:
I contacted the authors of both pieces. Albuquerque and O’Hanlon, who wrote the Times piece, provided two sources for their murder rate numbers: An article by Neil MacFarquhar in the New York Times (Sept. 16, 2003) and a piece by Lara Marlowe in the Irish Times (Oct. 11, 2003). Yet, both references clearly stated that much more than murder was included in the reports that they used from the Baghdad morgue. MacFarquhar notes that these deaths also included “automobile accidents” and cases where people “were shot dead by American soldiers,” cases that clearly did not involve murders. The Irish Times piece mentions that “up to a quarter of fatal shootings [in the morgue] are caused by U.S. troops.”
All right, suppose we want to exclude shootings by US troops from the total. If “up to a quarter” are by US troops, then, at least three quarters are not by US troops. The Irish Times article reports that 518 people were shot dead in August. Three-quarters of 518 is 388. That is a very conservative estimate for the number of murders since it doesn’t count those murdered by other means, or those victims whose bodies did not make it to the morgue and that it was “up to a quarter”, so the true number could well be higher.
Lott doesn’t mention it, but MacFarquhar’s piece also reported that 70% of the deaths were from gunfire, so you can do a similar calculation with his data to also see that there were hundreds of murders a month.
Anyway, that’s the logical way to correct the figures, but look at the way Lott “corrects” them:
For some perspective, in D.C., murders account for fewer than 5 percent of all deaths. Even counting only the types of deaths explicitly mentioned in the stories citing the Baghdad morgue (accidental deaths, murders, suicides) and assuming that soldiers were engaged in the same type of fighting in D.C. as they are in Iraq, murders in D.C. would account for just a third of deaths. (The respective numbers for the U.S. as a whole are even lower: a half of one percent and 11 percent.) Obviously, counting these other deaths as “murders” in D.C. would imply that murders were three to 20 times more common than they actually were.
The first thing to note is that Lott is trying to pretend that the body count at the morgue is for all deaths, even though the articles say that it is violent deaths. And if there are only 800 deaths a month of all kinds in a city of five million people then that translates to a life expectancy of about 400 years. But never mind that. I want you to admire the circularity of his argument. He assumes that murders in Baghdad would be about 5% of all deaths, just like in DC. But that will only be true if the murder rate in Baghdad is similar to that in DC. In other words, if you assume that the murder rate in Baghdad is similar to that in DC, you can show that the murder rate in Baghdad is similar to that in DC. If, instead of assuming what you want to show, you use the facts given in the articles, it is clear that the murder rate in Baghdad is much greater than than that in DC.
The Wall Street Journal Europe instead relied on the U.S. Army 1st Division stationed in Baghdad. A public affairs officer with that division, Jason Beck, confirmed for me that a large part of the Iraqi legal system is being overseen by the U.S. JAG officers, and they are using the same standards for murder rates as used in the U.S. and separating out murders from other deaths.
And pretty clearly, they have only been able to record a small fraction of the murders that have occurred.
Lott finishes up by demanding that the New York Times print a “correction”:
When a publication of record such as the New York Times gets Baghdad’s October murder rates wrong by up to a factor of 28 to 1 and no correction is issued, the consequences are significant.
You have to admire Lott’s chutzpah, but he should think bigger than this—he should demand that all the other newspapers listed below also issue “corrections”.
Stories reporting on murders in Baghdad are listed below:
|22 May||The Wichita Eagle||In a month of operation since the war ended, morgue officials recorded 191 deaths from gunfire, compared with 10 to 15 per month before the war. … In three of the 191 bodies that came to the morgue, medical examiners found smaller-caliber bullets that appeared to have come from weapons used by U.S. soldiers, Obaidi said. But, by far, most of the bullets found in the dead came from AK-47′s, which U.S. troops don’t normally use.|
|24 Jul||The Times||By the time [the morgue] closed at 8pm it had received 23 bodies; 18 were shooting victims.|
|9 Aug||Associated Press||
The morgue, which handles all violent or suspicious deaths, recorded 10 gunfire deaths in July 2002. This July it handled 470, said the director, Dr. Fa’aq Amin Bakr.
In normal times, Bakr said, gunshots account for less than 10 percent of Baghdad’s unnatural deaths, with the bulk coming from traffic accidents, drownings, burns and asphyxia. In July, more than half of the 702 bodies brought in had died from bullets, he said.
|28 Aug||Agence France Presse||
“We used to deal with about 3,500 suspicious deaths here a year,” says Faik Amin Bakr, the head of Baghdad’s Medical-Legal Institute, adding that only about 10 percent of those were due to gunshot wounds.
“In July this year alone, we got 780 deaths, with 460 of them due to gunshot wounds. That’s the equivalent in one month of deaths due to gunfire that we would normally get in a year and a half,” he said.
Bakr adds that August produced similar figures, and notes that it is impossible to estimate the number of people who die violent deaths and whose bodies are not brought to the mortuary.
|29 Aug||National Post||“murder capital of the world: 35 killings a day”|
|3 Sep||The Boston Globe||
In 2002 the Baghdad morgue conducted autopsies in 3,500 suspicious deaths; 350 died from gunshot wounds.
But in the three months since the fall of Hussein’s government – May, June, and July – the morgue has logged 1,169 shooting deaths out of a total of 1,868 suspicious fatalities, according to the morgue’s director, Dr. Faik Amin Baker.
|17 Sep||The New York Times||462 people dead under suspicious circumstances or in automobile accidents in May, about 70 percent from gunshot wounds; 626 in June; 751 in July; 872 in August. … By comparison, last year there were 237 deaths in July, one of the highest months, with just 21 from gunfire.|
|25 Sep||The Seattle Times||
The number of reported gun-related killings in Baghdad has increased 25-fold since President Bush declared an end to major combat May 1. Before the war began, the morgue investigated an average of 20 deaths a month caused by firearms. In June, that number rose to 389 and in August it reached 518. Moreover, the overall number of suspicious deaths jumped from about 250 a month last year to 872 in August. …
“I’ve been working in this morgue for 29 years,” said Dr. Abdul Razzaq Ubaidi, a pathologist. “It used to be accidents and natural deaths. Now, there are too many weapons in society. We used to dissect six or seven bodies a day, but now we do 25 to 35 a day and 80 percent of them are bullet injuries. We have more freedom, but with the absence of security there is more freedom for murder.”
|10 Oct||The Independent||During September, civilian deaths by gunfire in Baghdad totalled 518. Under Saddam, deaths from gun violence in Baghdad averaged 6 per month. According to the central morgue in Baghdad, violent deaths reached 872 in August. The highest monthly toll in the previous year was 237 deaths, with just 21 from gunfire.|
|10 Oct||Irish Times||
Police brought 667 bodies to the morgue in the month of September. Of those, 372 – including 50 women – died of gunshot wounds, says Dr Qais Hassan, also a forensic pathologist and the director of the morgue’s statistics department. The worst month this year was August, when 518 Baghdadis were shot dead, compared to 10 fatalities from bullets in August 2002.
The statistics tell the story of Baghad’s descent into cold-blooded mayhem. In all of 2002, 174 people died of gunshot wounds in the capital. This year, until the end of September, pathologists recorded 2,173 deaths by firearms in Baghdad alone, almost all of them since May. The institute closed down for ..10 days when the regime fell in April, so dozens if not hundreds of deaths during that period were not counted.
“It’s a disaster,” Dr Hassan says. “At the end of the war, the Iraqi army left weapons all over the place. US forces could have collected them, but they didn’t do it. Security is getting a little better, because there are more Iraqi police now.” Dr Hassan estimates that up to a quarter of fatal shootings are caused by US troops.
|12 Oct||Newsday||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.|
According to the Baghdad Institute of Forensic Medicine, between 20 and 25 bodies are brought to the morgue daily. Most of the victims are killed by gunfire.
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
According to statistics, 872 bodies were brought to the institute in August alone. 850 of the deaths were caused by firearms.