How many Iraqis have died because of the American invasion? It would be nice to know the local price of Saddam Hussein’s ouster, five years on. Many researchers have produced estimates. Unfortunately, these range from 81,020 to 1 million. The wide variance, of course, speaks to considerable uncertainty, although the individual figures are often absurdly precise.
The figure most often quoted, and until recently regarded by many as the most scientific, comes from a study published in TheLancet, a prominent British medical journal, just before the 2006 election. That study, which made headlines worldwide and was cited by war opponents from Ted Kennedy to Al-Jazeera, found that a shocking 601,027 Iraqis had died violent deaths since the U.S. invasion. But the timing of the study’s publication and the size of its estimate have attracted a great deal of criticism; its authors, mostly researchers at Johns Hopkins University, have been accused of everything from bias to outright fraud.
Research by the World Health Organization, published in January in TheNew England Journal of Medicine, has cast further doubt. It covered basically the same time period and used similar statistical techniques, but with a much larger sample and more-rigorous interview methods. It found that the Lancet study’s violent-death count was roughly four times too high. This has a familiar ring to it. A smaller study, released by the Johns Hopkins team in 2004, had been quickly contradicted by a larger UN survey suggesting that it had overstated excess mortality by, yes, about a factor of four.