Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Death in Iraq, And What the U.S. Public Really Thinks About the War

Perhaps because it was only yesterday the latest ABC/Washington Post Poll was released, the blockbuster story on Iraq in today’s Washington Post ended up on page A12. Whatever the reason, the incredible number in the black-ink headline – 655,000 dead – still leapt off the page at the unsuspecting reader.

As was done a year ago, a team of Iraqi and U.S. epidemiologists had surveyed 1,849 households and, by using a process called “systematic equal step sampling” to create statistical “clusters” that were then extrapolated to the entire survey population. In 2004, using the same methodology as in this year’s work, the medical sleuths estimated that in the first 18 months following the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, there were 100,000 “excess” Iraqi deaths – that is, deaths from any cause that exceed historical and statistical equilibrium. When the findings were published in the respected British medical journal, Lancet, the authors and their conclusions were belittled by many conservative and even a few liberal organizations.

By coincidence, President Bush held a news conference at the White House today. Asked about the fatality report, Bush brushed off the findings, labeling the researchers’ methodology flawed and even asserting – mistakenly or purposefully, that the study’s authors said their methodology was flawed.

Without question, when “excess deaths” jump of half a million in one year, methods should be questioned. However, what the researchers discovered seems to point to a high degree of accuracy in the methodology:

- separating out the fatalities in the first 18 months from the total time period yielded the same percentage of “excess” deaths in the 2006 study as in the 2004 one, validating the process of clustering data;

- the overwhelming majority of deaths were validated with death certificates;

- the upward spurt in deaths recorded in the Lancet study mirrors the findings of other organizations, although the actual number of total deaths recorded by these other organizations are lower.

By a further coincidence, General George Casey, overall commander of the coalition troops in Iraq, spoke to reporters at the Pentagon. Asked to comment on the same report, Casey – who said he had not seen the report – thought the estimate not credible. Casey cited a figure of 50,000, but was unable to say where he saw that figure. (The British-based Iraq Body Count estimates 50,000 Iraqi dead, but it concedes its totals are based on incomplete information.)

Separately, the Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center reports that between the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom and September 30 2006:

20,687 U.S. military personnel serving in the operation suffered wounds;

30,365 U.S. military personnel suffering from wounds, disease, or non-hostile injuries required medical air transport out-of-country; and

a total of 44,779 U.S. military personnel participating in the operation are “non-mortal” casualties.

The latter figure roughly equals three standard U.S. combat divisions “lost” at least temporarily, with two division-equivalents lost for a substantial period because they were aero-medically evacuated.

Other points on Iraq that tie in with the ABC/Washington Post survey, that pertain to the substance of the Lancet report, or that came out at the Pentagon briefing include:

- 64% of those surveyed disapprove of the way the Iraq war is being handled, while 84% say Iraq will be important in how they vote this November;

- 63% say the war is not worth the cost to the U.S., and 51% that U.S. forces should be decreased. Of the latter, 37% called for immediate withdrawal.

- coalition fatalities in Iraq are rapidly approaching 3,000 – they are a mere nine short of that grim total. The U.S. has lost 2,384 dead, the UK 119, and the other allies with forces in Iraq 118.

- at the Pentagon press briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted that the U.S. had returned approximately 55 of the 108 bases that have been set up in Iraq since the end of combat operations on May 1, 2003.

- General Casey said he saw no need to ask for additional troops in Iraq.

By a fourth coincidence, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Asia Society released the results of an extensive survey of the publics in the U.S., China, India, South Korea, and Australia centered on the subject of “The United States and the Rise of China.” (Japan’s survey results will be released in November.) The questions pertained both to the national self-image of each population and to the views of each public of the other countries named.

One question in particular illustrated graphically the intensity of the feeling that is emerging in the U.S. toward the Iraq war. On a scale of 1 to 100, the public was asked to rate how favorably they felt toward selected countries around the world – obviously a “touchy-feely” question whose answer would include a certain level of emotional intensity. Of 15 countries listed, 5 were 50% or higher (but none over 71%), six clustered between 40-47%, , Saudi Arabia came in at 34% and Iraq at 27%. Only avowed “enemies” North Korea and Iran were lower – at 23% and 21%, respectively.

More on the Chicago study later.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That comes to 600 people a day. Think someone might have noticed all those bodies piling up in the street somewhere if these numbers were accurate?

Another example of nonsense being accepted as fact.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Random Goblin said...

They're not 600 bodies all piled up in the same place.

Iraq has a population of well over 26 million. That "600 people a day" is only one extra dead body every day for every 44 thousand people.

How is that nonsense, when we're talking about a country with bombs, gunfights, sectarian violence, and military operations happening every day?

Furthermore, remember that not all of these are combat deaths or violent deaths. War, with the resulting breakdown of infrastructure and basic needs, is usually accompanied by increased disease, sanitation problems, food issues, etcetera, all of which lead to an inflated death rate.

Granted, these 600 a day are not evenly spread throughout the Iraqi populace, but it doesn't sound all that unreasonable when you realize the scale of the war and fully appreciate the context.

7:26 PM  

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