The Death Rate in Iraq

THE DEATH RATE IN IRAQ….A team at Johns Hopkins has done another study of the post-invasion death rate in Iraq:

A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred.

….Of the total 655,000 estimated “excess deaths,” 601,000 resulted from violence….Of the violent deaths that occurred after the invasion, 31 percent were caused by coalition forces or airstrikes, the respondents said.

This is remarkable. If you do the arithmetic, it means that coalition forces have killed 186,000 Iraqis in the 39 months between the invasion and the period when the study was done. That’s about 4,700 per month ? and the numbers are on a steady upward trend.

This study was done by the same team that did a similar “cluster sampling” analysis in 2004 that generated a huge amount of controversy. As near as I can tell, though, their methodology turned out to be sound and the objections mostly didn’t hold water. (For example, they were accused of inflating the figures by including a cluster from Fallujah, which had just gone through a horrific battle. In fact, they specifically excluded the Fallujah cluster for exactly that reason.) This time around, the figures from their new study buttress the previous one, and also match up with other data, which suggests their methodology is on target.

There is, of course, a fair amount of inherent uncertainty in this study. There’s a roughly 10% chance the true figure could be half the reported size and a 10% chance it could be double the reported size. Still, the most likely figure is the one the Johns Hopkins team reported, and if it’s accurate it means that coalition troops are killing nearly 5,000 Iraqis per month. That’s truly an astonishing number.

UPDATE: I only had the Washington Post report to go on when I wrote this last night, and I guessed wrong about the statistical accuracy of the study. The paper is here, and in fact there’s only about a 2% chance that the true figure is either half or double the reported figure.

That’s based strictly on the chance of statistical sampling error. It’s also possible that there are additional methodological problems (people lying to the researchers, for example), but that’s a separate issue.