The Iraqi Civilian Body Count

April 28, 2006 1

April 25, 2006

Dear Editor,

In "Dead Reckoning: Counting Iraq's Civilian Dead" (By Adam Shemper, Mother Jones, May/June 2006 Issue), Adam Shemper writes:

"This tally is updated daily on his website,, which Dardagan cofounded and runs with a team of 16 volunteers. The site, also known as IBC, has been the only consistent record of the war’s human toll, making it the go-to source for reporters, activists, and even the Bush administration. (...)

There have been more than a dozen independent surveys of civilian casualties, including a 2004 report in The Lancet that concluded 100,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed, but IBC remains the most-cited source for casualty numbers.

When asked for a figure last December, President Bush shrugged "30,000, more or less" a number very close to the one on IBC at the time. Afterward, a CNN White House correspondent reported that Bush officials named as the source of the president's estimate. "I think he surprised everyone by giving this figure," said John Sloboda, IBC’s cofounder. (The president, however, misused the number, thinking it included Iraqi military and police casualties.)" Just a few days ago Dahr Jamail and Jeff Pflueger wrote: "We are, however, alarmed at their apparent lack of concern at the way their information is being usurped by the pro-war camp to manipulate public opinion and minimize the catastrophe the failed US occupation has become for Iraqis. The authors of this piece submit that if, as it claims, IBC is truly a humanitarian research project armed for greater impact with an aggressive and sophisticated marketing system, it must not allow its data to be misused and misrepresented for pro-war propaganda campaigns.

If IBC cannot prevent the misuse of its data, it would be better for it to remove its web site and counters from the Internet permanently. It must then limit itself to objective scholarly research of the English media without sophisticated marketing paraphernalia." (Learning to Count: The Dead in Iraq, by Dahr Jamail and Jeff Pflueger, truthout, 13 April 2006) In February, Stephen Soldz wrote: "If Western reporters, competing for scarce public attention, are loath to accurately portray the extent of their ignorance about what is going on in enormous chunks of Iraq, IBC has no excuse not to acknowledge, openly and prominently, the resultant limits to their civilian death tally. To not proclaim loudly that the IBC count is, by its nature, likely a severe undercount of the true number of deaths, is to participate in the culture of deceit and denial of the costs in civilian lives and suffering that has plagued this alleged humanitarian intervention from the beginning. If IBC does not understand this point, then their efforts at promoting truth have now turned into its opposite and should cease." (When Promoting Truth Obscures the Truth: More on Iraqi Body Count and Iraqi Deaths, by Stephen Soldz, ZNet, 5 February 2006)

About the "Lancet study" and the Iraqi civilian deaths, you and Mr. Shemper may be interested in the following.

On 29 October 2004, the British medical journal The Lancet published 'Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey’: Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths. (Interpretation)

Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children. (Findings)

Source: Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey, The Lancet, Published online October 29,2004 This study reads: "The researchers found that the majority of deaths were attributed to violence, which were primarily the result of military actions by Coalition forces. Most of those killed by Coalition forces were women and children... Eighty-four percent of the deaths were reported to be caused by the actions of Coalition forces and 95 percent of those deaths were due to air strikes and artillery." ('Iraqi Civilian Deaths Increase Dramatically After Invasion', October 28, 2004) The Financial Times, on November 19, 2004 wrote: "This survey technique has been criticised as flawed, but the sampling method has been used by the same team in Darfur in Sudan and in the eastern Congo and produced credible results. An official at the World Health Organisation said the Iraq study 'is very much in the league that the other studies are in ... You can't rubbish (the team) by saying they are incompetent'". (Stephen Fidler, 'Lies, damned lies and statistics,' Financial Times, November 19, 2004) The Chronicle of Higher Education on January 27, 2005 wrote "’Les has used, and consistently uses, the best possible methodology,’ says Bradley A. Woodruff, a medical epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indeed, the United Nations and the State Department have cited mortality numbers compiled by Mr. Roberts on previous conflicts as fact -- and have acted on those results. (...) Mr. Roberts has studied mortality caused by war since 1992, having done surveys in locations including Bosnia, Congo, and Rwanda. His three surveys in Congo for the International Rescue Committee, a nongovernmental humanitarian organization, in which he used methods akin to those of his Iraq study, received a great deal of attention. 'Tony Blair and Colin Powell have quoted those results time and time again without any question as to the precision or validity,’ he says." (Researchers Who Rushed Into Print a Study of Iraqi Civilian Deaths Now Wonder Why It Was Ignored, by LILA GUTERMAN, The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 27, 2005) According to Les Roberts (Center for International Emergency Disaster and Refugee Studies at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, one of the world’s top epidemiologists and lead author of the Lancet report) there might be as many as 300,000 Iraqi civilian deaths (Do Iraqi Civilian Casualties Matter?, By Les Roberts, AlterNet, February 8, 2006)

The horror inflicted by our governments, with our money and in our name, might be way far more horrifying. Dr Gideon Polya recently wrote: "AVOIDABLE MORTALITY (technically, excess mortality) is the difference between the actual mortality in a country and the mortality expected for a peaceful, decently-run country with the same demographics (i.e. with the same birth rate and the same population age profile). Avoidable mortality is a fundamental parameter to be considered in any sensible discussion of human affairs – it is the bottom-line issue when assessing the success or otherwise of societal, regional and global policies. (...)

Ignoring mass mortality simply ensures its continuance and denying past atrocities simply ensures their repetition – history ignored yields history repeated. Thus the actuality of the Jewish Holocaust (6 million deaths) was not formally acknowledged by the Allies until 30 months before the end of World War 2 in Europe. This tardiness in reportage must surely have contributed significantly to this atrocity.

However, TODAY Mainstream Media are comprehensively ignoring the horrendous magnitude of the avoidable post-invasion deaths in Occupied Iraq and Afghanistan (presently totaling 2.3 million deaths) and the avoidable deaths in the First World-dominated non-European World (presently 14.8 million deaths each year)." (Layperson’s guide to counting Iraq deaths, by Dr Gideon Polya, MWC News Magazine, 6 April 2006)


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