As my readers know, the reason why the Lancet study and the ILCS give different numbers for deaths in Iraq is because the studies measured different things over a different time periods. Of course, that fact isn’t going to stop pro-war columnists from claiming that the ILCS refutes the Lancet study. Here is Tony Parkinson writing in The Age.
How many people, for example, still swear blind that 100,000 civilians have been killed in the war in Iraq? For some, it has become an article of faith that this is the cost of an illegal war of aggression waged by a ruthless imperial power.
For this we can mainly thank the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, which published a controversial survey on the impact of war in Iraq ahead of last year’s US presidential election. Based on a sample of 788 households in Iraq, it estimated the “excess deaths” resulting from war to be in a range between 8000 to 194,000. It claimed a 95 per cent confidence that the actual death toll was at least 98,000.
Now, the United Nations Development Program in association with Iraq’s Ministry of Planning has published its own survey, based on a much larger sample of almost 22,000 households. The Iraq Living Conditions Survey estimated war-related deaths to be nearer 24,000, including both civilian and military casualties. Still hideous, but not the apocalyptic vision of industrial-strength slaughter embraced so readily, so ghoulishly, by some critics of the war.
Fortunately, Anthony O’Donnell has sorted Parkinson out in a letter to the editor:
Tony Parkinson (Opinion, 27/5) and the accompanying illustration by John Spooner each claims that the recent UNDP finding of 24,000 war-related deaths in Iraq somehow discredits an earlier study published in The Lancet which estimated 100,000 excess deaths since the allied invasion. In fact, the UNDP study does no such thing.
The Lancet figure included all excess deaths, whether caused directly by armed combatants, homicide, disease, accident and so on. Within this, it is possible to estimate about 33,000 deaths directly attributable to coalition and insurgent forces. The UNDP study focused solely on such deaths and in turn came up with a figure of 24,000. However, the UNDP study covers only the first year of occupation while the Lancet study covered 18 months. The UNDP study therefore suggests a toll as high or higher than the Lancet study for this type of death. Contrary to Parkinson and Spooner’s claims, the UNDP figure represents a partial but significant vindication of the method and results of the Lancet study.
John Quiggin notes how many factual errors Parkinson makes and observes that blogs have done a much better job on this issue than the papers.
There also seems to be a trend amongst Lancet denialists to keep reducing the sample size of the Lancet study. In spite of the fact that they surveyed 988 households, Tim Blair claimed they only surveyed 808, and now Parkinson has further reduced the number to 788.
And what of Parkinson’s charge that those concerned about the number of Iraqi deaths are behaving “ghoulishly”? Here is Parkinson being just as ghoulish last year:
Finally, there is the harrowing evidence of the regime’s monstrosity, with the uncovering of 300,000 corpses. Saddam was not just another tinpot dictator. This was slaughter on a historic scale.
Now the “300,000 corpses have been uncovered” claim has been embraced by the pro-war crowd just as the readily as the Lancet’s 100,000 number has been embraced by the other side. The big difference is that the 300,000 number is known to be false. Last year, the Observer reported:
Downing Street has admitted to The Observer that repeated claims by Tony Blair that ‘400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves’ is untrue, and only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered.
It seems that an estimate by Human Rights Watch that 290,000 Iraqis were “missing” was turned into claims that 300,000 or 400,000 bodies had actually been found. Furthermore,
Hania Mufti, one of the researchers that produced that estimate, said: ‘Our estimates were based on estimates. The eventual figure was based in part on circumstantial information gathered over the years.’
I’m sure they’ve done the best they could with the information they had, but an estimate based on other estimates and circumstantial evidence cannot be considered as reliable as the Lancet study using state-of-the-art random sampling and deaths verified with death certificates.