Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Confirmed: over 1 million violent deaths in Iraq

ORB has produced more research on deaths in Iraq:

Following responses to ORB’s earlier work, which was based on survey work undertaken in primarily urban locations, we have conducted almost 600 additional interviews in rural communities. By and large the results are in line with the ‘urban results’ and we now estimate that the death toll between March 2003 and August 2007 is likely to have been of the order of 1,033,000. If one takes into account the margin of error associated with survey data of this nature then the estimated range is between 946,000 and 1,120,000.

This is only an imprecise register of overall deaths, in no way as rigorous as the two Johns Hopkins studies (Lancet 1 & Lancet 2 for short). Until a further epidemiological survey is carried out, it's probably the best figure available. I would point out that the data provided [pdf] breaks down the sources of death in a fashion approximately similar to Lancet 2 [pdf]. Intriguingly, it has a separate category for "sectarian violence" to which it attributes only 4% of violent deaths. Perhaps this reflects the fact that much of what is reported as 'sectarian' violence is in fact the body count from paramilitary probes into communities by coalition appendages such as the police commandos. On the other hand, how is a 'sectarian' death by gunshot separable from an 'ordinary' death by gunshot? To put it a different way, gun-fire is a means of killing and sectarian violence is a mode of killing. The category doesn't belong in the same list and would probably invite confusion.

Aside from gunfire (40%), the biggest category of deaths is attributed to car bombings (21%). As I understand it, the more you break these figures down, the less accurate they become. If the overall figure is accurate to a 95% confidence level, that doesn't mean the figure for car bombings is accurate to the same level. However, all surveys register a high proportion of deaths from car bombings. If the trends in this survey hold, you are talking about 200,000 deaths from this tactic alone. If the trend in Lancet 2 holds, it would be closer to 130,000. Either way, it is spectacularly large and points to an intense war on various fronts that - even though car bombs draw more attention than other forms of death - is still airbrushed from general view. Both a weapon of state terror and the poor man's airforce, the weapon is effective, but also deadly. As Mike Davis put it, the car bomb is a weapon whose use is "guaranteed to leave its perpetrators awash in the blood of innocents", a "categorical censure" that applies "even more forcefully to the mass terror against civilian populations routinely inflicted by the air forces and armies of so-called 'democracies'". Not least because those air forces and armies are the instigators, originators and pioneers of the destruction of Iraq.