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Thursday, November 09, 2006


Counting the Iraqi dead - again

The latest entry in the "how many Iraqis are dead" sweepstakes:
Iraq's health minister said about 150,000 have been killed by insurgents since the war started, giving the government's first overall casualty estimate.

Iraq's Health Minister Ali al-Shemari said about 150,000 Iraqis have been killed by insurgents since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

For every person killed about three have been wounded in violence since the war started in March 2003, al-Shemari told reporters during a visit to Vienna. He did not explain how he arrived at the figure, which is three times most other estimates.
Count the errors. First of all, "150,000 killed" is not a "casualty estimate," it's a "fatality estimate." Second, an estimate of the number of Iraqis killed by one source ("insurgents") can hardly be considered an "overall casualty estimate." Surely even the health minister wouldn't claim that no Iraqis have been killed by the Americans or by the Iraqi government forces, would he? Third, the all-inclusive, yet unexplained term "insurgents." Does that estimate include Iraqis killed by sectarian militias and death squads? Fourth, do the health minister's "Iraqis" include all Iraqis, or just those designated as "civilians"? The article (and the health minister?) doesn't say.

Finally, the claim that this number is "three times most other estimates." Actually I'm not aware of any other "estimates." Iraq Body Count counts (not "estimates") the number of civilian dead reported in English-language media. That's an undercount of the total number of dead (and doesn't even include non-civilians), but not an "estimate." The Johns Hopkins study, which is not mentioned in the AP article at all, was a scientific study which produced a scientifically valid number with error bars, not an "estimate." As for other numbers which get cited in the press, like that of George Bush, those can't even be considered a "guesstimate," much less an "estimate."

Two things we know for sure. The U.S. government and the media will keep spinning the numbers to keep them as low as possible, and whatever the correct number, there are one hell of a lot of Iraqis (and others) dead who would be alive today were it not for U.S. imperialism.

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