A new study has found that more than 600,000 Iraqis have died since 2003 than would have died if the U.S.-led invasion had not occurred. The estimate is dramatically higher than previous surveys, and indicates that Iraqi civilian deaths are likely to be up to 20 times larger than the estimate of 30,000 quoted by President Bush in a speech last December.
The survey, done by Iraqi physicians and overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, was conducted via a random sampling of nearly 2,000 Iraqi households throughout the country. The findings — considered an estimate and not a definitive count — are also 10 times higher than the estimate of 50,000 deaths released by the U.K.-based Iraq Body Count research group.
Not only is the total number higher than previously reported, but the study also found that the death rate is increasing, with the mortality rate for the year ending in June nearly four times what it was the year before. Of the 654,965 "excess deaths" the country has suffered, 601,000 are the result of violence, with the remaining 54,000 caused by disease and other factors.
The same group released a controversial study in 2004 that found that 100,000 deaths had occurred in the 18 months following the U.S. invasion, and the Washington Post speculated that the new report would be met with similar skepticism because of the high mortality numbers. Both studies are the only ones so far to use scientific methods, techniques called "cluster sampling," typically employed to estimate deaths in famines and other natural disasters. Margin of error would put the total between 426,369 and 793,663 deaths.
The Post said the researchers were confident of the new numbers, however, because the results bore out the methods used in the first survey, and 90 percent of the deaths were substantiated by death certificates. The annual mortality rate in the year before the invasion was 5.5 deaths per 1,000 people; after the invasion it was 13.3 deaths per 1,000 people. Fifty-nine percent of the dead were male; 56 percent of the violent deaths resulted from gunshot wounds, 14 percent resulted from car bombs and other explosions. The report also found that 31 percent of deaths were caused by coalition forces or air strikes.
President Bush sternly rejected the study's findings during a press briefing on North Korea and Iraq on Wednesday morning (October 11), saying the methodology has been "pretty well discredited," adding, "I don't consider it a credible report and neither does General Casey [head of U.S. forces in Iraq] and neither do Iraqi officials."
When asked if he wanted to amend his stated figure of 30,000 Iraqi civilian dead, the president declined and said, "I do know that a lot of innocent people have died and that troubles me and it grieves me. I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence. I am amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that ... this level of violence that they tolerate."
Bush said it is now time for the Iraqi government to work hard to bring security to neighborhoods so people can feel at peace. "I stand by the figure a lot of innocent people have lost their life."
The survey did not examine the circumstances of death, or whether the dead were actively involved in combat, terrorism, criminal activity or caught in the path of the conflict.
While not commenting directly on the results, Defense Department spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Mark Ballesteros told the Post, "The Department of Defense always regrets the loss of any innocent life in Iraq or anywhere else. The coalition takes enormous precautions to prevent civilian deaths and injuries."