The Corner

Iraqi Casualties, Corrected

UNICEF’s estimate that before the war 36,000 Iraqis died each year for want of food and medicine, one reader notes, fails to take into account the hundreds, and perhaps thousands, whom Saddam killed intentionally.

A second reader notes that on “Iraq Body Count,” the site that purports to estimate the number of Iraqi civilians who have suffered untimely deaths in the 14 months since the war began, the casualty figures are thoroughly suspect. As the reader explains:

[Iraq Body Count’s] claim: “[c]asualty figures are derived solely from a comprehensive survey of online media reports. Where these sources report differing figures, the range (a minimum and a maximum) are given. All results are independently reviewed and error-checked by at least three members of the Iraq Body Count project team before publication.”

Stating that “[t]he project relies on the professional rigour of the approved reporting agencies,” they assume “that any agency that has attained a respected international status operates its own rigorous checks before publishing items (including, where possible, eye-witness and confidential sources).”

Sounds OK so far. However, the “approved reporting agencies” include al-Jazeera and….They do not provide hyperlinks to their sources, but during the invasion I had “googled” their then-largest Iraq civilian casualty figures, 30 in Babel and 50-77 in Basra on March 23, 2003, based on the name of the sources that they provided. In these cases, every one of the casualty numbers they used to set their minima and maxima was reported by the news agencies as an unverified claim of the Iraqi regime….In other words, 2-3 media sources report an unsubstantiated claim, almost always noting that the claim is uncorroborated. “Iraq Body Count” then takes the claimed numbers, ignoring the sources’ own caveats, and deems these numbers reliable for setting the casualty range….The system seems deliberately designed to inflate civilian casualties.

Using the estimates from UNICEF and Iraq Body Count in my posting earlier today, I implied that the war in Iraq had saved the lives of some 25,000 Iraqi civilians. I stand corrected. The number is almost certainly higher.

To paraphrase Al Gore, how dare George Bush—how dare he—use the men and women of our armed forces to…save so many lives.


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