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Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Today's shocker(s) from Iraq

[First posted 10/10, 10:30 p.m.; updated and bumped]

One story, three shockers.

Shock one--the basic story: "Study Claims Iraq's 'Excess' Death Toll Has Reached 655,000"

Shock two--the details: "Of the total 655,000 estimated "excess deaths," 601,000 resulted from violence and the rest from disease and other causes, according to the study." I have to say that, scientific method or no scientific method, I find this very hard to believe, given the state of public health (water, etc.) and actual health care (hospitals, etc.) in Iraq. Perhaps the only thing that explains it is that, after a decade of sanctions, things were already so much worse than "normal." Imagine if their baseline had been the 1980's.

Shock three--the story was actually published in the Washington Post. Considering the treatment of the initial Johns Hopkins/Lancet study by the corporate media, this in itself just might be the biggest shock of all.

Update: Comparing the Washington Post story to the New York Times story provides some interesting contrasts. First of all, the Times totally ignores the "excess deaths" formulation, and refers only to the 600,000 killed by violence, even though they're happy to talk about excess deaths when it comes to other places, like Darfur. As if those people who died from non-violent causes are any less dead, or their families any less grieving. Second, they quite legitimately note the "error bars" on the data - the range of the estimate from 426,369 to 793,663. Third, trying to make the claim that the increase isn't really as much as you might think by asserting that the "baseline" should have been higher, they make this interesting statement: "Under Saddam Hussein, the state had a monopoly on killing." Really? There were no murders in Iraq prior to the American invasion? Quite a record!

The Times does quote various skeptics, which is legitimate. I'll particularly lend my agreement to this:

Donald Berry, chairman of biostatistics at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, was even more troubled by the study, which he said had “a tone of accuracy that’s just inappropriate.”
I haven't read the report. But if it really quotes a number of "601,027 Iraqis dead from violence" based on a statistical sampling whose error bars are 30% or so, I can only laugh, or perhaps shake my head. This is kind of like measuring your height with a yardstick, and then quoting the answer to the nearest nanometer. Completely inappropriate.

None of that changes the underlying truth - there are hundreds of thousands of Iraqs whose blood is on the hands of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and their Republican and Democratic enablers in Congress and their supposedly non-partisan enablers in the media, very much including the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Update 2: The actual study is here (pdf file).

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