One justification for the
So, how many Iraqis have died since the invasion in March 2003 and the subsequent occupation and war? The
Perhaps the best known estimate of civilian deaths from the fighting is that of the Iraq Body Count project. This British-based group of researchers has systematically examined the western press and collated all accounts of civilian casualties. They tabulate all deaths that are independently reported by two sources. Based on this rigorous methodology, they estimate civilian casualties from the invasion until
With the exception of the People’s Kifah estimates, which might be considered suspect as they are an anti-occupation organization and they have published no details about their methods (and which only covers the first eight months of war and occupation), these estimates largely are based on western press accounts. As is acknowledged by Iraq Body Count, such accounts likely underestimate deaths as many, perhaps most, battles and other military actions, and resultant Iraqi deaths, are often not reported unless coalition forces suffered casualties. Additionally, in recent months western reporters have been unable to move about Iraq independently, meaning that even such high-profile claims of mass civilian deaths from US bombing as the killing by US bombing of upwards of 45 Iraqis at a wedding party in the town of Mogr el-Deeb in May could not be independently verified. Thus, all previous estimates of
In order to address the question of how many Iraqi deaths have occurred, a team of public health researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Columbia University School of Nursing, and the College of Medicine at Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad undertook an epidemiologic survey of “excess Iraqi” deaths since the March, 2003 invasion. This high-powered research team combined epidemiologic expertise with a background in studying people in disaster and emergency situations and an in-depth knowledge of Iraq. Members of the team have carried out research and consulting in many parts of the world, including Iraq, sub-Saharan Africa, and Eastern Europe and have worked with such organizations as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.[11-13]
The results of the research by this team have surprised many. The researchers estimated that there were 98,000 more deaths in the 18 months after the invasion than there would have been if Iraqis had died at the same rate as during the 15 months prior to invasion.
This report has stirred up quite a storm. The British Government has challenged it. The
So how should one evaluate this study? While it may be tempting for those outraged by this war from the beginning to accept these results uncritically, those of us who also believe our politics should be guided by facts and a search for the truth should approach these findings with caution. All controversial research needs to be carefully examined for evidence of methodological problems or other flaws.
As an activist who is also a psychological and public health researcher with experience conducting prevalence surveys, and a teacher of statistics and social research methods, I’d like take a look at this study to help readers judge it for themselves. Researchers early learn the folly of latching onto results simply because they support our preexisting beliefs.
First I’ll briefly describe the methodology of the study. Then I’ll evaluate it.
The Study Methodology
The researchers used a traditional epidemiologic technique called a clustered sample survey. Without getting into technical details, the country was divided into a number (33 in this instance) of subgroups and a community was randomly selected from each cluster. In each community, Global Positioning System (GPS) devices combined with random numbers were used to select a particular point in the community. Then the nearest 30 household were surveyed; these 30 households are referred to as a