FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Counting the Human Cost of War

by PATRICK COCKBURN

An additional half million Iraqis died because of war and occupation between 2003 and 2011 according a new survey based on more rigorous research than those carried out in the past.

The study, which is the result of a collaboration between researchers from the US, Canada and Iraq, estimates that 460,800 more Iraqis died during that period than would have done normally. Sixty per cent of the deaths were violent, with the remaining 40 per cent due to indirect causes linked to the collapse of infrastructure, the researchers claim.

The casualty figures for Iraqi civilians has been a subject of furious debate since the early days of the US occupation with the US army at first claiming that it was not counting Iraqi dead in a vain attempt  to avoid the same controversy over body count as had happened in Vietnam.

Supporters of the US-led invasion appeared to consider that a lower figure for fatalities, even if it was over 100,000, justified the war while its critics believed that a higher number showed that the conflict had brought excessive and unnecessary suffering to Iraqis.

The latest figures are published in PLoS medical journal in an article entitled “Mortality in Iraq Associated with the 2003-11 War and Occupation.”

The survey conducted in 2011 is based on 2,000 randomly selected households who were asked about births and deaths in their family since 2001. All adults in each household were asked about deaths of siblings. A purpose was to compare the death rate post 2003 with the rate in the 26 months before the war and thereby work out the excess of deaths after the invasion. Previous studies had not looked at what happened after 2006 when the war was in full swing.

It remains unclear how far this type of study can be conducted in a country like Iraq in which government institutions had been degraded by sanctions since 1990 and all figures are suspect. Working out the death rate depends on assumptions about Iraq’s population which is not precisely known but is estimated to be 33 million.

The study says that the researchers “had to rely on outdated census data (the last complete population census in Iraq dates back to 1887)… The researchers are 95 per cent confident that the true number of excess deaths lies between 48,000 and 751,000 – a large range.”

The survey is complicated by the large migration of Iraqis at its height in 2006-8 when many Iraqis fled to safer parts of their own country and up to a million took refuge in Syria while others fled to Jordan and Egypt. The survey estimates an extra 56,000 deaths were no counted due to migration though it is difficult to see how assumptions could be made about the death rates of people who had moved to safer places in Iraq with the purpose of staying alive.

During the 13 years of severe sanctions before the war public health had already sharply declined in Iraq because of a falling standard of living and lack of medical facilities. After 2003 many doctors fled because they were a prime target for kidnappers and Iraqis often travelled to Syria and Jordan seeking medical attention.

There were great differences in comparative safety in Iraq during the decade in which the US had troops in the country up to the end of 2011. The northern three Kurdish provinces were stable and safe and violence was less continuous in the Shia south of the country. Sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia was at its worst in Baghdad, the mixed Sunni-Shia districts around the capital and mixed provinces like Diyala. Violence between the occupation forces and the Iraqi insurgents was at its most intense in these areas but also in Anbar, the vast Sunni province in western Iraq. In the battle for Fallujah in November 2004 some 2,000 insurgents and civilians may have been killed by the US Marines.

The most convincing figures for Iraqi deaths by violence come from Iraqi Body Count (IBC) which looks at the number of people killed in verifiable incidents. In an analysis of over 31,500 incidents in the ten years up to Marc 2013 says that between 112,017 and 122,438 civilians died in addition to the death of 39,000 combatants and a further 11,500 civilians whose deaths have been revealed by Wikileaks publication of the American War logs. This would bring the full total of dead to 174,000 documented as being killed by violence in Iraq since 2003.

The height of the slaughter was during the sectarian civil war between March 2006 and March 2008 when 52,000 people were killed. The distinction between civilian and military casualties is blurred since the US forces often recorded the Iraqi dead – such as the journalists and others machine gunned from a helicopter as recorded by a video published by Wikileaks or others killed by artillery in Fallujah – as being enemy combatants. The number killed has been rising sharply over the last year with 5,000 dead since April and 258 killed so far this month.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.

 

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Honduras Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sandes Must Demand Answers
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Gilbert Mercier
Donald Trump: Caligula of the Lowest Common Denominator Empire?
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Robert Dodge
On President Obama’s Hiroshima Visit
Andrew Moss
Bridge to Wellbeing?
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
May 26, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Stage of Capitalism: Germany’s Assault on the IMF
Pepe Escobar
Hillary Clinton: A Major Gold-Digging Liability
Sam Pizzigati
America’s Cosmic Tax Gap
Ramzy Baroud
Time to End the ‘Hasbara’: Palestinian Media and the Search for a Common Story
José L. Flores
Wall Street’s New Man in Brazil: The Forces Behind Dilma Rousseff’s Impeachment
Patrick Cockburn
The Battle of Fallujah: ISIS Unleashes Its Death Squads
John Feffer
The Coming Drone Blowback
Alex Ray
The Death Toll in Syria: What Do the Numbers Really Say?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail