Iraqi Mortality Studies

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A new epidemiological study of Iraq by the Iraqi government and the World Health Organization sees 151,000 or so dead through violence since the Iraq War began and "also found a 60 percent increase in nonviolent deaths -- from such causes as childhood infections and kidney failure -- during the period." The news account contrasts this with the earlier statistical survey that found 655,000 "excess deaths" during the war period, of which 601,000 were from violence.

Unfortunately, I don't understand from the coverage how different the total fatality rate in these two studies is. In other words, how much of the disagreement is about what to attribute an increase in the death rate to (violence or other) and how much is about disagreement over how many people died. This section implies, however, that the disagreement is primarily over causes:

Les Roberts, an epidemiologist now at Columbia University who helped direct the Johns Hopkins survey, also praised the new one. While both found a large increase in mortality, his found that much more of it was caused by violence.

"My gut feeling is that most of the difference between the two studies is a reluctance to report to the government a death due to violence," he said. "If your son is fighting the government and died, that may not be something you'd want to admit to the government."

Further difficulties include the fact that many people have been displaced by the conflict and also I assume that some entire households have been wiped out. It remains noteworthy to me that while the US military insists that it takes measures to minimize the civilian death toll, it doesn't take any measures to quantify the civilian death toll, which makes it impossible to know what their measures accomplish. Step one in trying to increase blog traffic, for example, is to measure blog traffic.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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