Friday, October 29, 2004

Iraqi Civilian Deaths

Pharyngula linked to a news article summarizing a recent Lancet article (requires free registration) that publishes the first scientific estimates of civilian casualties in Iraq due to the recent war. The paper compares death rates from before and after the war, and the numbers are staggering:
"Evidence suggests that the mortality rate was higher across Iraq after the war than before, even excluding Falluja. We estimate that there were 98 000 extra deaths (95% CI 8000– - 194 000) during the post-war period in the 97% of Iraq represented by all the clusters except Falluja. In our Falluja sample, we recorded 53 deaths when only 1·4 were expected under the national pre-war rate. This indicates a point estimate of about 200 000 excess deaths in the 3% of Iraq represented by this cluster."
"The risk of death from violence in the period after the invasion was 58 times higher (95% CI 8·1 - –419) than in the period before the war."

Reading the discussion is also rather eye-opening:
"Falluja was the only cluster where GPS units could not be used to find the random starting point [the researchers used GPS units to determine random locations within a town in which to start their surveys]. These devices have military uses and their possession resulted in the imprisonment and death of many Iraqis during the previous regime. Since interviewers were stopped and searched repeatedly getting into Falluja, the use of a GPS unit could have resulted in the killing of interviewers. Stopping a car in Falluja at a random point at the date of the visit (Sept 20) and walking away from it was also likely to result in the killing of interviewers."

You don't see that type of methodology issue reported in your average journal article ...

The paper finishes with the excellent point that the US military now has no excuse not to provide good estimates of civilian casualty counts:
"This survey shows that with modest funds, 4 weeks, and seven Iraqi team members willing to risk their lives, a useful measure of civilian deaths could be obtained. There seems to be little excuse for occupying forces to not be able to provide more precise tallies."

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