Death toll in Iraq War: Over a million?

1 Comment

Just Foreign Policy Iraqi Death Estimator Year end is time for taking stock.  So it seems an appropriate moment to remember what Project Censored has called one of the top 25 stories censored stories of 2008, namely the massive death toll that has come in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.  Some have estimated this death toll to be well in excess of 1 million (see counter).

It is clearly difficult to make a precise measure of the deaths that can be attributed to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.  In this posting we would like to review some of the attempts to come up with an estimate.

Two peer reviewed papers estimating the mortality impact of the war have been published in the Lancet.  The first,  from October 29, 2004, is entitled Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey.  The authors conducted in-depth interviews with 998 households during the month of September 2003.  They compared mortality in the 14.6 months before the invasion with that of the 17.8 months afterwards, finding that the risk of dying was 2.5 times higher after the invasion.  Much of this increased risk reflected deaths in Fallujah.  But even if these were excluded, the risk of death was still 1.5 times higher after the invasion.  In terms of absolute numbers this meant “about 100,000 excess deaths.”  This study was updated in an October 11, 2006 paper “Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey” in which 1849 households were interviewed.  This study concluded that “[t]he number of people dying in Iraq has continued to escalate” and calculated the excess mortality as 654 965 (CI: 392 979–942 636).

These studies came under both considerable criticism as well as marked media silence (particularly in the US).  The controversy surrounding the papers is well summarized on Wikipedia.  Concerns about a US media blackout can be found at Project Censored and were the subject of a paper by Lila Gutterman in the Chronicles of Higher Education entitled “Researchers Who Rushed Into Print a Study of Iraqi Civilian Deaths Now Wonder Why It Was Ignored“.  (Gutterman’s article provides a non-technical description of the study).

There are three other relatively official estimates of the Iraqi death toll:

In January of 2008 the New England Journal of Medicine published “Violence-Related Mortality in Iraq from 2002 to 2006.”  This paper was produced  by the Iraq Family Health Survey Study Group, a joint effort of the Iraq Ministry of Health and the WHO.  The study looked at 1086 families and estimated that there had been 151,000 (95% CI 104,000 to 223,000) violence-related deaths from March 2003 through June 2006.  In their conclusions the authors note: “Violence is a leading cause of death for Iraqi adults and was the main cause of death in men between the ages of 15 and 59 years during the first 3 years after the 2003 invasion. Although the estimated range is substantially lower than a recent survey based estimate, it nonetheless points to a massive death toll, only one of the many health and human consequences of an ongoing humanitarian crisis.” Editorial comment and responses to the study were published in the same issue.

Also in January of 2008  ORB (Opinion Research Business), a London-based firm released revised death figures based on polls conducted in Iraq.  They calculated a death rate of 1,033,000 (CI: 946,000 to 1,120,000).  This is the largest estimate so far.

Finally, the Iraqi Body Count Project attempts to follow the civilian death toll through media reports.  When we checked on their website today (12/31) that estimate was 90,147 to 98,413.  Since it is highly likely that the media under-report civilian deaths, it’s hard to know exactly what to make of these numbers.

The number shown in the counter in this posting is derived from the Lancet 2006 study and a rate of increase calculated from the Iraqi Body Count data.  See here for more details.

A recent draft history of the War by the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR) concluded the War was (in the words of the New York Times) “a $100 billion dollar failure.”  The SIGIR draft report closes by quoting Charles Dickens:

“We spent as much money as we could and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us.”

This, of course, is the monetary cost.  The loss of human life is incalculable.  And whether the death toll is merely 151,000 plus or 1 million plus, it’s a horrendous way to spend $100 billion.  Who has profited from this?  Surely not the people of Iraq or the United States.

Readers interested in anti-war activism and news may want to visit the website of the American Friends Service Committee.

Pax tecum.

posted by Matt Anderson


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1 Response to “Death toll in Iraq War: Over a million?”


  1. 1bronxdoc

    In addition to the death toll — which is tremendous — the war in Iraq has created a flood of refugees to other countries and has made displaced people inside Iraq.

    Civilians have lost limbs and find it difficult to get good medical care.

    If you add the living to the toll of casualties, the number swells dramatically.

    Staff members at the American Friends Service Committee work with local partners to fit people with prosthetic limbs and to aid refugees, both internal and external.

    For 92 years, we’ve believed in and worked for the power of peace, social justice, and human dignity. Thank you for helping us spread the word.

    Laurie Creasy,
    web editor,
    American Friends Service Committee

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