Iraq’s Official Death Toll Supports Unofficial Tally

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

This story first appeared at Miller-McCune.

Slow and steady even in tallying the tragic proves its worth.

The government of Iraq has at long last released its own count of violent civilian deaths following the 2003 invasion, and the numbers are close to those from the organization Iraq Body Count.

A story by The Associated Press, which has been hounding the Iraqi government for the numbers, reports that Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry tallied a minimum of 85,694 deaths between the start of 2004 to Oct. 31, 2008. The AP, using that source and others, puts the count from the start of the U.S.-led invasion until today at 110,600 dead. Iraq Body Count, in comparison, put its total at between 93,540 and 102,071.

The Iraqis noted that the real figure may be up to 20 percent higher than their announced figure today. (It also counted 147,195 wounded.) And by comparison, the Web site icasualities.org reports there have been 4,667 coalition fatalities to date, some 4,349 of them American troops.

As we’ve noted before, counting the dead is fraught with political flak even beyond its macabre, Westmoreland-esque aspects and quantifying human tragedy. No tally, no matter how apolitical, can expect to escape without at least some sniping.

In Iraq in particular, a Lancet study generated lots of attention when it estimated civilian dead through violence at more than 600,000 in the period between the invasion and mid-2006. Iraq Body Count, for example, rejected that count as “improbable” based on both flawed methodology and what might be termed the “smell test.”

In The Lancet study, University of London economics professor Michael Spagat pointed out to me, the authors claimed death certificates confirmed much of the carnage they claimed—as high as 70 percent of the violent deaths in 2005. Those numbers just don’t gibe—by a factor of between seven and 14—with either the official figures that debuted this week or similar leaked numbers AP reported on earlier.

“Since they claim death-certificate confirmation, they really need it to be the case that there are several hundred thousand death certificates floating around than is actually the case,” he wrote in an e-mail. In an as-yet-unpublished paper, he compared the earlier leaked numbers to thoese in The Lancet paper and notes: “It is fairly clear that both the [Lancet] data and the [leaked] data cannot simultaneously be valid.

IBC’s own methodology — much more tedious and exacting than the cluster sampling used to produce The Lancet estimate – has shown it holds up. One lesson we can draw is that it is possible to make out important shapes even in the fog of war.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate