A new survey puts the Iraqi death toll at over one one million:

These findings come from a poll released today by O.R.B., the British polling agency that have been tracking public opinion in Iraq since 2005. In conjunction with their Iraqi fieldwork agency a representative sample of 1,461 adults aged 18+ answered the following question:-

Q How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003 (ie as a result of violence rather than a natural death such as old age)? Please note that I mean those who were actually living under your roof.

None 78%
One 16%
Two 5%
Three 1%
Four or more 0.2%

Given that from the 2005 census there are a total of 4,050,597 households this data suggests a total of 1,220,580 deaths since the invasion in 2003. …

As well as a murder rate that now exceeds the Rwanda genocide from 1994 (800,000 murdered), not only have more than one million been injured but our poll calculates that of the millions of Iraqis that have fled their neighbourhoods, 52% have moved within Iraq but 48% have crossed its borders, with Syria taking the brunt of refugees.

My back of the envelope calculation puts the 95% confidence interval at 1.1-1.3 million. This seems consistent with the second Lancet study giving 600,000 violent deaths when you take into account the amount of time that has passed since then. The surveyors in this study did not verify the deaths by asking to see death certificates, so this could bias the results upwards, but the experience in the two Lancet studies suggests that the great majority of people who report a death can verify with a death certificate. The number of households in Iraq has dropped by maybe 5-10% since 2005 because of all the people that have fled the country, so 1.2 million may be a little high, but it’s likely that the number is now one million dead and another million injured as a result of the war.

The LA Times has picked up the story here. Comments from lenin and Stephen Soldz.


  1. #1 Boris
    September 18, 2007


    One gets the impression that you are ignoring the fact that is very difficult to report from Iraq. Mosey on upthread and contmplate how difficult it must be to report on deaths in Iraq from a bunker from which you cannot leave.

    Also, you are still using argument from personal incredulity.

    I wonder if the fact that Iraq is the bloodiest conflict ever for journalists would have an effect on the underreporting of deaths. Your take?

  2. #2 Ian Gould
    September 19, 2007

    So kilo, what percentage of the deaths in the DRC and Darfur and the Bosnian and Lebanese civil wars do you think made it into the western press on a day-to-day basis?

  3. #3 Anton Mates
    September 19, 2007


    I wasn’t saying this makes newspaper reports accurate. I was saying that this is how much government employees carrying out genocide give a shit about the bodies being found, even with identifying evidence.

    So when it comes to the question of WhoTF is killing the 90% of unrecorded dead, you’re still short a suspect, along with the bodies of course.

    Dawhuh? So if some of the deaths caused by a given group have been officially recorded by the central government or mass media, then all of them must have been recorded, and therefore any unrecorded deaths must have been done by a completely different group? Is this really your argument?

    Hey, I once saw a cat catch a mouse, and the cat didn’t seem to care that I was looking! Therefore, any mouse mortality which occurs out of my sight was done by, probably, ninjas.

    And as for “along with the bodies”…look upthread at the graveyard descriptions. Can you find us any evidence that the number of dead bodies piling up in Iraq is too low to fit this survey?

  4. #4 Donald Johnson
    September 19, 2007

    Setting aside the shrieking, there seem to be several separate arguments all lumped together in kilo’s pov–

    1. The press should be able to count most of the deaths– Clearly ridiculous if he means reporters should personally check up on every violent incident, or even a large fraction of them. Even the numbers we actually do see are mostly numbers collected by some other group, like the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

    2. The insurgents or the Arab press should be reporting all these unreported deaths–Arab reporters probably face the same dangers anyone else faces. Unless they’re on every street corner reporting their observations to one central collecting agency, they can’t do the job either. I’m not sure about the various insurgent groups–do any of them report regularly on deaths? Of course, there have been at least two cases where Iraqi organizations reported death tolls much higher than IBC figures.

    3. Where are all the bodies?— Probably buried. It’s odd that kilo thinks this is an argument. The anecdotal evidence suggests there is a huge increase in gravedigging, which is more consistent (on an impressionistic level) with Lancet numbers than IBC numbers.

    4. And in general, the violence level couldn’t be that high or I’d sense it from news reports–My own sense about the news reports is that they give contradictory vibes. Literally tens of thousands of US casualties (nearly 4000 dead) and very little sense of how many Iraqi casualties they’ve inflicted in return. According to IBC US forces kill several hundred civilians per year in the past two years, which is an astonishingly low figure given how many US casualties there have been. (How many casualties have there been in the IDF during the period in which they’ve killed a couple thousand Palestinian civilians and wounded tens of thousands? Not anywhere near that number, I’m sure, though I don’t have the number handy.) And there is a sense that Iraq is literally disintegrating in front of us, when according to IBC figures the death toll over the past 4 years is considerably smaller than the toll during the Iraq/Iran war and perhaps smaller than the toll Saddam inflicted just in a few months in 1991 while putting down Kurdish and Shiite revolts. To use kilo’s own style of argument, these past few years should just seem mildly unpleasant compared to some periods under Saddam.

    I actually have some sympathy with kilo’s argument from personal incredulity and don’t have a strong feeling about where the truth lies, but that’s what I find unconvincing about kilo’s argument–he does have a strong sense, I gather, that the press is counting most of the deaths. But there’s lots of space between IBC and Lancet2, and no strong reason to believe the press is counting most of the deaths even if you don’t think the true number is ten times higher.

  5. #5 Donald Johnson
    September 19, 2007

    Here’s Btselem’s table of statistics for deaths in the second intifada–roughly speaking, there’ve been a few hundred IDF deaths as opposed to over 2000 Palestinian civilian deaths inflicted by the IDF.

    My impression is that this is typical in guerilla wars. It seems pretty unusual for an occupying force in a given year to be suffering as many or more casualties than it inflicts on the civilian population, but that’s what you’d believe is true in Iraq if you think the press is catching most of them.


  6. #6 Boris
    September 19, 2007

    Arab reporters probably face the same dangers anyone else faces.

    90 Iraqi journalists have died in the conflict, compared with 23 western journalists.

  7. #7 sod
    September 19, 2007

    Because apparently for everyone they’ve killed that’s been recorded by any means, theres 9 more killed by some other means by someone else that you’ve never heard of.

    from my daily lecture of the washington post, i got the feeling that car accidents are a RARE phanomenon.

    they happen about once a week, and are big things, involving lots of cars. and somehow the WaPo seems to have missed, when that backward moving truck knocked in the door of my friends car.

  8. #8 Toby
    September 19, 2007

    Regarding Donald Johnson’s posts (104, 105), I think they are good but perhaps not fully understanding the wars that are being fought in Iraq.

    Yes, wars because besides the Coalition/ Insurgent war, there are at least 4 others: a Sunni-Sunni war in Anbar, a Sunnia-Shia war in Baghdad and its environs, a Shia-Shia war in the south, and a Kurd-Arab war in the north. It is the multiple clashes and accompanying ethnic cleansing that is producing the high casualty figures.

    Ethnic cleansing is probably the worst form of war since it targets civilians explicitly – men, women and children. And because ethnic cleansing is so total – we are talking about whole villages wiped out and survivors put to flight, there are few left around to tell the tale, particularly no cameramen and reporters. Think maybe two or three Darfurs in the interior of Iraq.

    Why else would millions flee their homes which were safe under Saddam?

    Stop thinking US soldiers killing Iraqis: this is Iraqis killing Iraqis. The resemblance is to Yugoslavia after Tito died. Once the central power of the dictator has been removed, the country that was once held together by force tends to disintegrate. Iraq would have had to face the post-Saddam future sooner or later. George W. Bush ensured they have to face it in the worst possible circumstances.

  9. #9 Donald Johnson
    September 19, 2007

    I understand that, Toby, but actually, it’s not clearly true if you take the Lancet2 report at face value, where at least 31 percent (ignoring error bars) of the violent deaths were caused by coalition forces.

    That aside, as an American one of my obsessions is finding out how much of the violence our forces cause in Iraq. The issue is almost invisible. It’s taken for granted that US forces suppress violence–I’d like to know how much violence they inflict in suppressing it, but it’s virtually impossible to tell (unless you accept L2’s numbers on this.)

  10. #10 Toby
    September 19, 2007

    Donald, I do generally accept the Lancet/ Johns Hopkins figures and 31% due to “coalition” forces is probably right. 69% is still saying the majority of casualties are being caused by other players in the manifold wars that are going on, not to mention the multidude of criminal gangs kidnapping, looting, extorting and murdering.

    For example, in the Sunni-Sunni war Arbar war one of the sides is “ours”. That is, they accept US money and assistance, though stopping short of acknowledging the sovereignty of the Baghdad government. I have no doubt air power is one of the sorts of assistance being provided. That surely is one reason most of the refugees in Jordan and Syria are Sunni.

  11. #11 Johan W
    September 20, 2007

    Boris to Kilo:
    “Also, you are still using argument from personal incredulity.”

    Well on a science blog I think the argument from skeptical incredulity sure beats the argument from personal credulity – after all there are more than few comments in thsi thread along the lines of “Well this sounds right”, or “Seems high but I don’t have any problem believing it”.

    Things are very very bad in Iraq, and perhaps if stability returns there may be some true accounting of how high the toll has been – but the chances are that as in Cambodia, Rwanda and even Bosnia, and in fact most episodes of mass mortality cause by violence or oppression even when peace is re-established establishing the toll of war is hard to do with precision – and high to low range estimates of most of these episodes differ by as much as 50%. But that is not an excuse for the sort of reckless number mongering engaged in by L1, L2 and now this poll – there have been a number of other attempts to get a handle on the magnitude of what is happening – and although they differ between each other they lie roughly within that 50% range of each other that seems to correspond to what other methods of data collection – compromised as they are – report as well. These lancet and now ORB poll are about a factor of ten greater, and as Kilo has pointed out this is a really huge event to have been missed or unoticed. And look – someone who thinks that the casualties in Iraq from violence over the past three years might plausibly number from 90k to 250k based upon IBC, UN, ABC and Helth ministry reports with some assumptions about their shortcomings thrown in – that someone is not “trying to minimise” the casualties to sanitise the war – 100k dead is not “minimal”.

  12. #12 Kevin Donoghue
    September 20, 2007

    Johan W: 100k dead is not “minimal”.

    As you pointed out, this is a science blog. Would it be too much to ask that you learn what the words “minimize” and “minimal” actually mean in a scientific context before you sound off? If 100k deaths isn’t minimal, what do you consider the minimum to be? Do you really think it is plausible that the true number is actually lower?

    The figures published by the MoH and others are not “attempts to get a handle on the magnitude of what is happening”. At best they are attempts to quantify certified deaths using a system which has broken down, as even the Minister of Health has acknowledged.

    So you think that the JHU mortality studies involve “reckless number mongering” do you? Have you any evidence whatever for that claim or are you just another windbag trying to pass himself off as a statistician?

  13. #13 leebert
    September 20, 2007

    These survey results may or may not be skewed, I don’t know.

    There’s a simple solution to this debate: The dead and dying find themselves in a few predictable places: A morgue, a hospital, a mosque, a church, a crematorium or a graveyard. That would seem a good sanity check, looking for the rate of funerals, burials & cremations across the pre-war and post-war periods.

    I might believe the refugee problem could swing the stats either way, maybe come up zero-sum.

    Or could it be that expatriated Iraqis are those who could afford to get out & saved most of their kin, leaving behind a slightly smaller population with an apparently increased death rate? Maybe the study authors considered this, I don’t know.

    I don’t doubt the intentions or the analysis, but data can get skewed despite the best of practices. But by 9:1 (mentioned above), probably not. That’d be one helluva a data skew. If we take the previous JH/Lancet study on face value w/ the 650k dead & compare it to the 1,200k dead in this study, wouldn’t we be seeing evidence of a genocidal campaign elsewhere? This does seem at odds with media reports and general perception.

    Maybe there is a refugee problem that is skewing the results?

  14. #14 Donald Johnson
    September 21, 2007

    Here’s a link regarding deaths of journalists in Iraq–


    One thing I found interesting is that most of the deaths occur in or near Baghdad. So either the rest of Iraq is less dangerous for journalists, or there just aren’t that many journalists to kill outside of Baghdad.

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