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Today, President Bush in what was described by the NY Times as an unusual, question-answer session, said he believed that 30,000 Iraqi citizens had died since the start of the most current US war with Iraq. In a later update, the president's spokesman said that the president's estimate was based upon news accounts rather than US government figures.

I recently heard Les Roberts, the author of a formal study of Iraqi civilian deaths, talk about his study. He described how right-wing blogs, corporate media, and a neocon spokesmen for the government trivialized the results of his study. Below the fold I will share the lessons learned from this important study that is ignored in the US media yet cited by the rest of the world as the accepted standard for representing the number of civilian casualties in Iraq.

The president has admitted he doesn't read the news , including news weeklies, so he probably got his estimate from someone who reads only US newspapers. US newspapers often cite 30,000 as the number of Iraqi civilian deaths, a number that all scientists agree is a gross underestimate. This number is based on a compilation of published media reports. During a war reporters tend to stay clear of the action, and stay holed-up in a (relatively) safe place like the Green Zone. It's hard to count civilian deaths when no one is present to observe.

The only scientific study designed to estimate the number of Iraqi civilian deaths was published just prior to the US presidential election last November. Its estimate placed the number of Iraqi civilian deaths at 100,000 - and this was a conservative estimate that excluded a data sample from Fallujah. If this sample had been included the estimate of the number of deaths would have been closer to 200,000. For context, keep in mind that this study was completed before the US assault on Fallujah and another year of steady fighting.

Several years ago, Dr. Roberts used statistical sampling methods to estimate the number of war deaths in the Congo. He and his colleagues sampled clusters of homes in different regions to obtain these estimates. Their findings, which were cited by Colin Powell and Tony Blair , were published on the front page of the NY Times and Washington Post . Among their findings, they reported that roughly 3 million persons had died as a result of the war and that for every person who suffered a violent death, nearly two persons died from diseases due to displacement by the war. These diseases included primarily malaria and diarrhea. There results and methods were accepted nearly universally.

The study of Iraqi war deaths by the same author, using methodology identical to the Congo study, found a different result for the cause of deaths. This study found that a majority of deaths was due to violence, and that this was true in most provinces in Iraq. Most of these deaths were attributed to strikes by the coalition. The conservative estimate of civilian deaths obtained from these sampling methods was 100,000. 50,000 were estimated to be women and children; the study did not claim to separate fighters/soldiers from the rest of the population.

In contrast to the Congo study, US media essentially ignored or even misrepresented the results of the Iraq study. The Washington Post on page A12 cited Marc E. Garlasco, senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch, who said that the number of 100,000 appeared to be inflated. They cited his criticism of the study even though he had not seen it. Mr. Garlasco was interviewed by CNN and NBC. None of the study authors was interviewed by television media.




The US government had a quick response to the article as well. Within hours after its publication, a Harvard statistician and signatory on the PNAC responded with his criticisms of the study on behalf of the Center for Disease Control. Dr. Roberts, in his talk, noted that the press had not asked President Bush about civilian deaths in Iraq. Given the administration's rapid response to the study it's disappointing that GW Bush has not addressed the issue of civilian deaths in Iraq until today.

Dr. Roberts said he would disseminate his research findings differently than he did if he had a second chance. An important finding of his study -- the finding that the coalition forces are responsible for MOST war deaths in Iraq -- is not disputed. But instead of focusing on this fact, newspapers and right-wing blogs highlighted the confidence interval in the study representing a range of possible deaths. The confidence interval spanned from 8000 to 194,000 casualties. What many persons fail to understand when they hear this wide range is that numbers at the extreme end are highly improbable. And, more importantly, this estimate also does not include the Fallujah data.



Dr. Roberts said he did not respond to the right-wing blogs because his paper, which was reviewed four times and had every sentence carefully vetted, spoke for itself. His article was published in a highly respected journal, The Lancet. He thought that if he joined in a discussion with the blogs that he or his colleagues might misrepresent an important fact. He now believes that that strategy was a mistake. He believes he should have armed a cadre of colleagues who were experts in his methods to defend the scientific integrity of his work.

Hopefully, someone will conduct a second study which will effectively reduce the confidence interval and give us a better estimate of Iraqi civilian casualties. US and Iraqi citizens deserve to know this information. A study of Iraq war deaths serves several purposes. Dr. Roberts noted that the US government (USG) is responsible according to article 4 of the Geneva Convention for the safety of the Iraqi people. A comprehensive study shows whether the USG is meeting its responsibilities. He believes also, as a US taxpayer, that it's important to assess the effectiveness of policy. Any cost-benefit analysis of pre-emptive war should include an analysis of civilian deaths, especially when the cause de jour is to promote "freedom". And perhaps that's why President Bush's handlers are promoting a figure of 30,000 civilian deaths. A more accurate number would provide US citizens with yet one more piece of evidence that the war with Iraq was a mistake.

Below is a link to an audio file containing the presentation given at the University of Minnesota last November by Les Roberts, one of the authors of a formal study of civilian deaths in the Iraq war. I got the "scoop" on this important story. The media did not attend his presentation. The audience was comprised of about 15 demographers and a handful of members of Women Against Military Madness. The file is large and may take considerable time to download, even with a fast hookup. Most of the statements in this diary are based on the content of this . MP3 file.

Originally posted to Kayakbiker on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 06:46 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4.00)
    If I can't get this important story recommended, I don't think I'll author any more diaries. That will mean I don't have the right stuff.

    Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. Horace Mann

    by Kayakbiker on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 06:58:43 PM PST

    •  Just means you're not a brand name here (none)
      •  Or you hit a slow moment (none)
        Don't take it personal. I have written some BRILLIANT (IMHO) diaries that got no response.

        But back to the subject, I was listening to NPR today, and their take was the question seemed almost to have been planted--or words to that effect.

        And it was SO obvious. He even paused as if thinking. (I'm surprised he didn't put his finger to his temple and look ever so thoughtful.)

        And the give-away: All I have ever heard was either 100,000 of 120,000. This 30,000 was fresh from his ass. So if this was a real reporter doing real job, why not follow up with "everyone else says at least 100,000."

        But noooo. Questin #2, why didn't another reporter in the room ask to look up her dress, just to make sure she was not really Jeff Gannon?

      •  Bob Woodard is a White House Shill.... (none)
        We have come full circle. My original post of the photos for this story on my blog about a month ago contained the statement "Bob Woodard is a White House shill" and I assume it was you who suggested I post that phrase.
        I never looked up the original diary entry. Did the plan work?

        Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. Horace Mann

        by Kayakbiker on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 08:15:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Keep at it anyway (none)
      I've been close to the magic number, but timing is important, too. Rest assured MANY people will read this diary tonight.

      Couldn't be more important, IMO. Argues forcefully for the idea put forth by some here that the question on civilian deaths was staged. Even if it wasn't rehearsed, Bush's rote response, followed by big yuks at his own expense, confirms his fear of the topic, and the importance his handlers place on distortion and lying in order to innoculate themselves from political damage. It ain't workin'.

      Sorry also to tell you that the site is going down for maintenance again tonight, so that may hurt your recommends too. You got mine though.

    •  Excellent Diary. Dr Roberts talk is a must-listen (none)
      Packed with great information on many levels. Both as it pertains to the methods,collection and analysis the Iraq War figures , and the frightening ly massive and rapid  Bush administration' propaganda and domestic perception management campaign that was brought to bear when the Lancet article came out.

      Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

    •  Please keep posting this stuff. (none)
      There are hundreds of people who come into dKos in any month (new members), thousands each year, and more and more every day.  Most of them are starved for information.  I sure don't know, but I suspect almost every one of them doesn't know any of the stuff we can rightly think of as common knowledge around here.  Remember -- there is a lot to learn.  Not that I'm a measure of these things, but I wasn't aware of the Lancet study.  Now I am.  Thank you.  We know the truth.  Our task now is to get it "out there".  Keep posting -- everyone takes a piece of the truth and carries it out into the greater population.  It is a slow, repetitious process.  There are so many who are sleeping through the greatest theft and deception of our time.  And when they finally wake up we dKos'ins and others are going to look at each other and think, "What took you so long?"  But without our diaries, and our comments, and our tireless repetition, they might not have awakened to the truth.  Such is the life of the birds in this mine:  we have to smell the poison, scratch our way out, and then communicate the danger to the uninterested.  It is, to borrow a phrase, work.  Keep posting/diarying/talking/linking/exposing.  And thanks again.

      George W. Bush has filled in the blanks. We now know him through and through. He is 100% pure *fascist*

      by Yellow Canary on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 05:16:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Don't be discouraged (none)
    I'm interested in the real number as I'm sure others are too.  

    If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything-Mark Twain

    by Desert Rose on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 07:17:46 PM PST

    •  Thanks for the encouragement.... (none)
      but I'd be willing to trade my 317 comments in an earlier story I wrote about the sinking popularity of right-wing talk radio for wider circulation of the news in this story.

      If people don't read about it here, where will they get it?

      Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. Horace Mann

      by Kayakbiker on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 07:27:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  By the way ... (none)
        The study was diaried and discussed several times awhile ago, when it came out and when it got (limited) press coverage.  

        9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

        by besieged by bush on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 07:55:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm aware of the earlier coverage.... (none)
          But this new story has lessons learned by the author along with his explanation of what happened to minimize his story.

          Until I head Les Roberts talk I wasn't aware of the PNAC signatory and Harvard statistician who criticized his work on behalf of the US government.

          Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. Horace Mann

          by Kayakbiker on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 08:02:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for posting ... (none)
    with the substantive discussion.  I thought of raising this study, which is now (in terms of data collection) roughly year old data .. thus we could add some more 10,000s to the total 'likely' death total.

    As an analyst, with some statistical training & experience in the post-conflict environment & some experience re collateral damage analysis (like Human Rights Watch's work), I found this quite interesting as a study.

    For anyone interested, here is a pdf of the study.

    I have had the chance to pass some hours with some of the people involved in this work. While I am not necessarily fully on board with all of their specifics, their work certainly is within the bounds of reasonable as to 'excess' Iraqi deaths since US forces entered Iraq.  As it did not fit the Administration's agenda (clearly), it never received the reasoned discussion it merited in the broader discussion of Iraqi policy.

    9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

    by besieged by bush on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 07:54:25 PM PST

    •  Thanks for the link to the original study.... (none)
      There are more details about the specific criticisms of his study in the MP3 recording I have posted within my diary.

      Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. Horace Mann

      by Kayakbiker on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 08:04:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good diary... (none)
    thanks for pointing out the study in relation to the Bush speach.

    I am personally getting tired of the Iraq war debate as Bush seems determined to fail.

    Could we change the debate from "winning" the war in Iraq to "stabalizing" Iraq. We could win by bombing the heck out of the Sunni provinces and Bush could charge in on a tank and plant an American flag and say "mission accomplished", but the goal is not to win, but to stabalize the country.

    You cannot stabalize a country by antagonizing the people. I for one can't believe that Bush is going to try to force our policies down the Iraqis throats even though it violates their consitution, which protects the dignity of every Iraqi - so much for respecting the sovereignty of other nations.

    The Bush administration needs to focus more on diplomacy and to try to bring in the Sunnis and some Baathists.

    By the way, following the rule of law and adhering to international standards is not "appeasement" it is the right thing to do for the good of our reputation, our troops and for encouraging meaningful cooperation with other nations.

    Finally, it really needs to be said that democracy and rights are achieved through internal struggle not through third party force.

    "When the government fears the people, that is Liberty. When the people fear the government, that is tyranny." Thomas Jefferson

    by RichardG on Mon Dec 12, 2005 at 08:40:11 PM PST

  •  Good diary (none)
    We all know Chimpy was pulling numbers out of his ass today.

    Too bad the MSM won't call him out for his lies.

  •  According to the infamous... (none)
    ... Jean Schmidt (OH District 2), "there have been 80,000 terrorists that have been killed" [in Iraq]! linked text

    The woman is mad! But she got that number from somewhere.

  •  God, what have we done? (none)
    I am going to look for the audio of a very interesting interview I heard on NPR a few months back.  Slowly remembering what it was.  Might have even been this Les Roberts, but I recall that it was someone ... a journalist ... who spent a lot of time in Iraq, talking to the hospitals and medical examiners, etc.. the people dealing with the bodies.

    And does a week go by that we don't hear about a stack of dead corpses being found???

    LetsFight. re handle: Fight the radical right is the sentiment!

    by letsfight on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 04:32:09 AM PST

  •  Okay, let's just do some math.... (none)
    We hear daily accounts of 'scores' of iraqis killed in various 'skirmishes.'  Let low ball that.  Let's say that 30 iraqis are killed each day... for two and a half years.  Let's just say 900 days times 20 people:  That's 27000.  Thing is...it was estimated by the brits in 2003 that 25000 iraqis had been killed at the beginning of the 'invasion'.

    Let's take Fallujah.  It's population was 500,000. The place was decimated.  Does anyone see ANY refugee camps for displaced Fallujans?  I haven't heard any. Guess they went to stay with cousins.  Yeah that must be it.  

    And we attacked and 'took control' of a number of cities that were filled to the brim with 'insurgents.'  Ramada was one of them, if I have the city name correctly.  

    Oh, I think 100,000 is a gross underestimation of total deaths.

    LetsFight. re handle: Fight the radical right is the sentiment!

    by letsfight on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 04:57:11 AM PST

    •  Woops... (none)
      "Let's just say 900 days times 20 people:  "

      Meant to say times 30 people.

      Thing is... we are finding stacks of corpses all the time.  Whole schools and police stations and markets are getting bombed like crazy.  Daily.

      I just wish that the iraqi people would come together as one unit and just say no. They could, ya know.  (Not suggesting that they aren't doing enough...to end the occupation.. but gosh...if they would all just amass in one place quietly and say 'get out'... it would all end. I suppose that's the beauty of war (beauty for the warmongerers)... so easy to divide and conquer.  

      LetsFight. re handle: Fight the radical right is the sentiment!

      by letsfight on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 05:00:57 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A good laymen's summary of Lancet Iraq death (4.00)
    report was published in the BBC:

    Iraq death toll 'soared post-war'.

    The Lancet report (html version) itself is here:

    Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey.

    The Lancet report of 100,000 excess deaths only covered the period of March 2003-October 2004. Subsequent war/occupation related occupation deaths.  It does not include  large numbers of subsequent deaths from November 2004 (Fallujah, Anbar, Tal Afar etc) to present.

    Other Noteworthy findings:

    • Lancet Study found majority of deaths linked to air-war [HE bombs, rockets and cluster or chemical ( ie WP, ethylene oxide fuel-air 'thermobaric') antipersonnel munitions].
    • Highest excess death rate occurred in Anbar province; lowest in Kurdish areas.

    Lancet report finding that most deaths oocurred as result of  air war (largely hidden from/unreported by western press), not disease or ground action, should be considered in light of Seymour Hersh's recent New Yorker investigative report: Up in the Air where he found that just one Marine Air Wing (does close air support) between Sept 2003-Nov 2004 dropped 500,000 tons, equivalent to 2 Million 500 lb bombs, in just one 14 month period after Mission Accomplished had been declared in Iraq.

    How many more millions of tons of bombs this and the other (Naval, Air Force) Air wings have used in the the rest of the war is anyone's guess, because Bush is hiding the numbers. (for comparison: in all 12 yrs  of the Vietnam War, 7 million tons of bombs/rockets were used and ~2 million civilians were killed)

    •  Many thanks.... (none)
      For your informative supplemental material. Also, I'm glad you had a chance to listen to my MP3 recording of Professor Robert's presentation.

      Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. Horace Mann

      by Kayakbiker on Tue Dec 13, 2005 at 07:27:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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