a memorial for all wars: the Polynational War Memorial


By: | posted: 11/3/2004 1:00:00 AM


On October 29 the renowned Medical Journal the Lancet published the results of a study of the death rate among civilians in Iraq on their web site, one week before it would be published in the printed issue. The study was made by a research team headed by Les Roberts of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. 33 areas of 30 households each was included in the survey where household members where questioned by the deaths in the household before and after the US led invasion. The result shows a far higher figure as previously expected. According to the study more than 100 000 people could have been killed in the Iraqi war and the bloody aftermath, a figure that does not include Falluja even though it is said that two-thirds of all deaths were reported there.

The report team writes: "The major causes of death before the invasion were myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accidents, and other chronic disorders whereas after the invasion violence was the primary cause of death. Violent deaths were widespread, reported in 15 of 33 clusters, and were mainly attributed to coalition forces. Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children. The risk of death from violence in the period after the invasion was 58 times higher (95% CI 8·1-419) than in the period before the war.
Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths. We have shown that collection of public-health information is possible even during periods of extreme violence. Our results need further verification and should lead to changes to reduce non-combatant deaths from air strikes."

This is the first time a study have been published much due to the fact that there have never been even any official records of the death toll among Iraqis. The prime source of the casualties have been unofficial sources such as the Iraqi Body Count project that calculate their estimates from western media reports. The study published in The Lancet is clearly made to bring the situation in Iraq for the people on the agenda and to take their responsibility for the humanitarian situation. The editor of the Lancet Richard Horton writes in an editorial:

"In planning this war, the coalition forces—especially those of the US and UK—must have considered the likely effects of their actions for civilians. And these consequences presumably influenced deployments of armed forces, provision of supplies, and investments in building a safe and secure physical and human infrastructure in the post-war setting.
With the admitted benefit of hindsight and from a purely public health perspective, it is clear that whatever planning did take place was grievously in error. The invasion of Iraq, the displacement of a cruel dictator, and the attempt to impose a liberal democracy by force have, by themselves, been insufficient to bring peace and security to the civilian population. Democratic imperialism has led to more deaths not fewer. This political and military failure continues to cause scores of casualties among non-combatants. It is a failure that deserves to be a serious subject for research."

Even though Richard Horton acknowledges the fact that the amount of data collected is not sufficient and that there is potential for recall bias among the Iraqis interviewed it is nevertheless a remarkable study, made during war and under great risk for the researchers. It proves that it is possible to estimate the human cost and furthermore that it is necessary for the coalition forces to take the civilian deaths into account in order to win the peace. It is already clear that an underestimation of this fact, as expressed in Gen. Tommy Frank's now infamous comment that "we do not do body counts" when asked about civilian deaths in Iraq, have helped to sustained the war.



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