Leading article: This shocking figure reveals the true cost of the war

Share

Numbers have been a source of contention in coverage of the Iraq war since well before the US and British invaded Iraq. The number of troops that would be required, not just to remove Saddam Hussein, but to secure the country afterwards, was a matter of debate, although few now dispute it was far too few to accomplish the mission successfully. The quantity of lethal weapons and materiel that Saddam was said to possess was the subject of equally fierce argument.

And while the US and British military authorities have been meticulous in releasing figures for the number of their own soldiers killed, they have been not been nearly so precise about counting the wounded, prompting accusations from servicemen's charities that they had sought to conceal the real scale and gravity of casualties. As for the number of Iraqis killed and wounded in the past three and a half years years - surely a key measure of the cost of the war to the supposed beneficiary of the invasion - the US and British authorities have until very recently remained scandalously silent.

Having decided, so the US authorities said at the outset, it would be too difficult to log figures for Iraqi casualties with any accuracy, the Pentagon started slipping out estimated numbers of Iraqi dead a year ago. Last December, President Bush gave a figure of about 30,000 for Iraqi civilian deaths. This was below the then estimate given by the Iraq Body Count project, which has been compiling figures from news reports and eye-witness accounts since 2003, but the discrepancy was not enormous. At least not when set against the number of Iraqi losses estimated by a US university medical study two years ago.

This study, reported - and by implication validated - by the British medical journal, The Lancet - argued that Iraqi casualties had been grossly underestimated. Applying a different methodology, which relied on household sampling, rather than news and other reports, the epidemiologists from Johns Hopkins University, extrapolated a figure of 100,000 Iraqi lives lost in the first 18 months after the invasion. So shocking was this figure that it was widely dismissed in official circles as unreliable or hyped for political reasons. This same group has updated its study, using similar methodology but with a larger sample. This has produced an estimated Iraqi death toll in the war to date of a catastrophic 655,000. This is more than 13 times the current Iraq Body Count figure of between 44,000 and 49,000.

Some part of the discrepancy can be explained by the fact that like is not being compared with like. The IBC figures are based on reports of actual deaths clearly linked to the conflict. The Johns Hopkins study, again reported in The Lancet, uses the results of its sampling to project numbers of deaths across the whole country; it then compares this figure with a figure based on death rates before the war. Its definition of war-related deaths is, therefore, rather broader, in that includes people whose deaths may be linked to the conflict less directly. The availability of guns, the shortage of medical staff, the increased incidence of disease due to poor hygiene, and other, perhaps psychological, reasons must all contribute to Iraq's soaring higher death rate.

We fully expect this latest study to become as great a source of political contention as its predecessor. Some will conjure up a picture of 655,000 Iraqis - 2.5 per cent of the population - gunned down in combat; others will denounce the figures as hyped by opponents of the war. A more sober judgement would be that, while the new figures contain an element of hypothesis, the true cost of the war in Iraqi lives is vastly higher than the invading countries have estimated. And the damage to Iraq's long-term future is higher still.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager - Events, Digital, Offline

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager (Events, Digit...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A woman walks past a pro same-sex marriage 'Yes' banner hanging in the window the Green Party's office in Dublin on 21 May 2015.  

Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum: A whole nation will now decide if I should be an equal citizen

Ross Golden Bannon
The day that Britain resigned as a global power  

The day that Britain resigned as a global power

Fareed Zakaria
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable