Violent Deaths in Iraq

VIOLENT DEATHS IN IRAQ….A British polling company recently surveyed 1,461 adults in Iraq and asked each one, “How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003?” Based on the results, they say that 1.2 million Iraqis have died violent deaths in the past four years.

The methodology here is nowhere near as detailed as that of last year’s Lancet study, which produced a figure of about 650,000 war-related deaths in three years (and probably would have produced a number of about 1 million if it had been extended into 2007), but at first glance it certainly seems to support the notion that the violence rate has been far higher than usually reported. However, here’s a second glance:

According to its findings, nearly one in two households in Baghdad had lost at least one member to war- related violence, and 22% of households nationwide had suffered at least one death. It said 48% of the victims were shot to death and 20% died as a result of car bombs, with other explosions and military bombardments blamed for most of the other fatalities.

Hold on. 20% of the deaths were from car bombs? That’s 240,000 deaths. Since the average car bomb kills about 7-8 people, this poll is suggesting there have been nearly 32,000 car bomb attacks in Iraq since 2003.

Roughly speaking, that’s 20 car bombs per day, compared to official estimates of 2-3 car bombs per day. And while overall death counts are necessarily fuzzy, car bombs are big public events that usually get reported fairly reliably in the media.

So….I dunno. As I recall, there was a similar criticism of the Lancet study on this particular point, and I’m not sure how it got resolved. I know some of my readers have delved pretty deeply into the Lancet controversy, so maybe they can help out in comments. Overall, though, unless you think that car bombs have been massively underreported, which is harder to believe than it is for death counts in general, this result suggests that household self-reporting of violent deaths in Iraq may be prone to exaggeration.

Alternatively, there are way more car bombs in Iraq than we think. Brrr.