Mordant Observations

It’s frustrating to discipline your home-boys.  Iraq Body Count – IBC – is the gold standard of anti-war research.  Its careful compilations of military, civilian, and contractor casualties in Iraq are used by anti-war activists the world over.

We at DD use them too – not because we agree with their looney-left politics, but because their methodology is honest and consistent.  It can therefore be used to attack their politics.

IBC compiles its “body count” from reports in the national and international press, from MNF-Iraq and DoD casualty lists, from Baghdad morgue reports, and from mortality stats provided by the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

IBC has, for instance, chronicled the general decline of coalition casualties over the last three years.  Today, as the press shrieks about the failure of the Maliki government to stem sectarian violence, IBC tallies the facts on the ground:  In October ’06, the civilian fatality rate (while still severe) has declined by more than half from its September peak.

You won’t hear that on ABC, CBS, or NBC, the “objective” mainstream.  But you can see it on the homepage.

To summarize:  IBC activists may be clueless as to Middle East policy, but they are damn good at counting corpses.

So it was of interest to read the official IBC reaction to the October 11 Lancet study that upped the IBC estimate of war-related death in Iraq by a factor of 12.  In “Reality Checks: some responses to the latest Lancet study,” IBC authors Hamit Dardagan, John Sloboda, and Josh Dougherty describe the Lancet conclusions as “extreme and improbable.”  They hypothesize that the Lancet authors used “unrepresentative data.”  But, ever the good leftists, the trio hasten to add “[T]otals of the magnitude generated by this study are unnecessary to brand the invasion and occupation of Iraq a human and strategic tragedy.”

The IBC authors highlight five implausible implications in the Lancet study.  We quote (in italics):

1) On average, a thousand Iraqis have been violently killed every single day in the first half of 2006, with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms.
 In our response to the Lancet (Daily Digest, Oct. 12, 2006), we observed that Iraq has one of the freest and most extensive presses in the world.  It is therefore unlikely that it would fail to report 9 out of 10 deaths, as implied by the Lancet authors.  IBC puts real numbers to this hypothesis.  They maintain that the average violent attack in Iraq claims five lives; that reports on such incidents generate, on average, six press reports apiece; and that 150 such attacks would have to go totally unreported daily to reach the Lancet’s extrapolated death toll.

2) Some 800,000 or more Iraqis suffered blast wounds and other serious conflict-related injuries in the past two years, but less than a tenth of them received any kind of hospital treatments.
 The Lancet mortality figures imply casualty figures even more extreme, based on well-documented ratios of wounds-per-fatal-attack.  The Lancet study implies that 800,000 Iraqis were severely wounded during the study period.  But Iraqi hospitals report treating less than one-tenth that many:  59,372. 

3) Over 7% of the entire adult male population of Iraq has already been killed in violence, with no less than 10% in the worst affected areas covering most of central Iraq.
 The Lancet figures imply that roughly one out of every fourteen Iraq men died as result of the war.  But there is at least a five-fold differential between the most- and least-violent Iraqi provinces implying a far higher death rate in the most populous areas of Iraq – a death rate which somehow went undocumented and unreported.

4) Half a million death certificates were received by families which were never officially recorded as having been issued.
 In this section, the IBC authors hoist those of the Lancet by their own petard.  The Lancet study maintains that of the deaths they reported in their “clusters,” 92% could be documented with death certificates.
 The IBC authors point out that during the study period, the death certificates on file from the issuing authorities – the Baghdad morgue and the Iraqi Ministry of Health – totaled roughly 50,000.  The Lancet study extrapolates 655,000 deaths during this period, 92% of which are ostensibly verified by death certificates.  These numbers require one to believe that the same ministries were simultaneously documenting and covering up the death toll.

5) The Coalition has killed far more Iraqis in the last year than in earlier years containing the initial massive “Shock and Awe” invasion and the major assaults on Falluja.
 The IBC authors point out that during the period between March 2003 and April 2004, the coalition launched “20,000 air strikes” and “rained 30,000 bombs on a largely urbanized country along with an untold quantity of artillery, as well as an additional 240,000 cluster bombs” – and this count doesn’t even include the ordnance expended in Fallujah in 2004.
 The Lancet attributes 32,000 deaths in this period to Coalition action.  But from June 2005 to June 2006, the Lancet estimates that Coalition action alone – not sectarian violence or street crime — caused 40,000 Iraqi deaths.
 The IBC authors conclude:

“Iraq is not an undeveloped society where tiny, self-sufficient communities live in isolation and ignorance of each other… Those who keenly recall the reported carnage associated with the invasion in 2003 will scarcely credit the notion that similar events, but of a much larger scale and extent have continued unremarked and unrecorded, including by locals in a nation at the level of education and urbanization of Iraq.”

 No credible researcher, Left or Right, believes the Lancet’s lies.  But there are roughly 1.2 billion Moslems worldwide who will believe them.  A war that has actually reduced Iraq’s violent death rate from the days of Saddam with be reported as analogous to the Holocaust, complements the West’s ideological Left and its scientist-whores.

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