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Week of 10.13.06

New Study: Over 655,000 Iraqi Dead from War

A controversial new study estimates that the Iraq war has led to the deaths of nearly 655,000 Iraqis as of July. President Bush has dismissed the survey as some experts have voiced problems with it, but several others have said the survey seems sound.

The figure is considerably higher than estimates by official sources or the number of deaths reported in the media. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad estimated the number of fatalities based on door-to-door surveys, conducted by doctors, of over 1,800 households in Iraq.

"I don't consider it a credible report," President Bush.
The new study, which attributes roughly 600,000 of the deaths directly to violence and 55,000 more to other war-related causes, was released on the website of The Lancet, a respected medical journal. The researchers said that in nearly 80 percent of the individual cases, family members produced death certificates to support their answers.

"I don't consider it a credible report," President Bush said on Wednesday. In the past, Bush has put the civilian death toll in Iraq at 30,000. Gen. George W. Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, said the new fatality number seems "way, way beyond any number that I have seen."

Michael E. O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, which also tracks Iraqi deaths, says he believes the numbers are "way off." Other research methods on the ground, like body counts, forensic analysis and taking eyewitness reports, have produced numbers only about one-tenth as high, he said.

At the same time several biostatisticians and survey experts were supportive of the work.

"I can't imagine them doing much more in a much more rigorous fashion," Steve Heeringa, the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.
"Given the conditions (in Iraq), it's actually quite a remarkable effort," said Steve Heeringa, director of the statistical design group at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

"I can't imagine them doing much more in a much more rigorous fashion," he said. Heeringa said the study made "minor departures" from the standards generally used in national surveys for choosing what households to interview.

And Richard Brennan, head of health programs at the New York-Based International Rescue Committee, said the study's survey approach was typical. "While the results of this survey may startle people, it's hard to argue with the methodology at this point."

A private group called Iraqi Body Count says it has recorded about 44,000 to 49,000 civilian Iraqi deaths. But it notes that those totals are based on media reports, which it says probably overlook "many if not most civilian casualties."

Related Links:

John Hopkins: New Iraq Mortality Survey

Iraq Body Count