The scandalous underestimation of Iraqi civilian casualties
by Dirk Adriaensens
When considering the number of civilian casualties during the Iraq occupation 2003-2013, it would be a good idea to use the scientific studies of the Lancet, ORB or even BBC to estimate the number of victims of the Iraq war.
When considering the number of civilian casualties during the Iraq occupation 2003-2013, it would be a good idea to use the scientific studies of the Lancet, ORB or even BBC to estimate the number of victims of the Iraq war. We shouldn't use media related counts like IraqBodyCount or CostOfWar. This is very unfair towards the hundreds of thousands Iraqi victims of the Iraqi catastrophe. Every death of this illegal occupation should be remembered, not only the soldiers of the invading and occupying powers.
A study, published in prestigious medical journal The Lancet, estimated that over 600,000 Iraqis had been killed as a result of the invasion as of July 2006. Iraqis have continued to be killed since then. Since the researchers at Johns Hopkins estimated that 601,000 violent Iraqi deaths were attributable to the U.S.-led invasion as of July 2006, it necessarily does not include Iraqis who have been killed since then. http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/156 has updated this number both to provide a more relevant day-to-day estimate of the Iraqi dead and to emphasize that the human tragedy mounts each day this brutal war continues. Their counter stopped in 2010 at 1.455.590 civilian casualties.
The estimate that over a million Iraqis have died received independent confirmation from a prestigious British polling agency in January 2008. Opinion Research Business estimated that the death toll between March 2003 and August 2007 was 1,033,000.
CostofWar (http://costsofwar.org/article/iraqi-civilians) grossly underestimates the figures of direct deaths by using the IraqBodyCount figures. Robert Fisk already wrote on 27/08/2005 about the numbers of bodies that were brought to the morgue of Baghdad: "By comparison, equivalent figures for 1997, 1998 and 1999 were all less than 200 a month." That was before the invasion, at the height of the murderous sanctions. In 2003 the number was 70 a day, in 2004 800 every month. In July 2005 the number stood at 1.100 a month, and then the worst days of sectarian violence hadn’t started yet.
Please read with me: Disappearances missing persons
Baghdad morgue figures
As violence in the Iraqi capital continued to rise in 2006, the task of tracking down missing people had become a grim ordeal. Iraq's anemic investigative agencies have been ill-equipped to keep up with soaring crime, so for families seeking information, the morgues have often provided the only certainty. According to Baghdad’s central morgue Director Munjid al-Rezali on April 16, 2009, at least 30,000 unidentified bodies had been delivered to Baghdad's central morgue since sectarian violence surged in 2006, and only about a third had since been identified. "In 2006, there was an average of 3,000 bodies a month ... I call this a year of horror. The Baghdad morgue took in about 16,000 unidentified bodies in 2006 alone, the bulk of them victims of death squads and other sectarian violence, a source at the morgue said on 14 January 2007. "Ninety percent of the bodies received in 2006 were unidentified, compared with 50 percent in 2007 and 15 percent in 2008," said Dr. Munjid Salahuddin, the director of the Institute for Forensic Medicine on 25 October 2009. The United Nations, citing Health Ministry numbers, reported that 1,471 unidentified bodies were found in Baghdad in September 2006 and 1,782 in October 2006.
The unidentified bodies of Wadi al-Salam cemetery in Najaf
There are clues to count the number of unidentified bodies, such as the number of people buried at the main Shiite cemetery in the holy city of Najaf. A large percentage of the people buried there remain unidentified. But even there, the deaths are limited mostly to Shiites and include natural as well as violent causes, so they cannot be considered definitive. The director of the cemetery's statistics office, Ammar al-Ithari, said the number of burials jumped from just over 32,000 in 2004 and 2005 to nearly 50,000 in 2006 and 54,000 in 2007. It fell to nearly 40,000 last year, as violence declined. There are no statistics from before the war because records were destroyed in the fighting. An Iraqi witness told us: "I wonder if you know that the puppet government decided to bury a lot of unidentified bodies found in Baghdad in the Shia cemetery in Najaf (Dar al-Salam) just to give the impression that a lot of the killing was aimed at the Shia also when its militias were slaughtering Sunnis in Baghdad and its suburbs" Middle East Online reported on September 9, 2007 that since the US-led invasion of Iraq began, as many as 40,000 unidentified corpses had been buried in Wadi al-Salam cemetery in Najaf, according to figures released by Ahmed Di’aibil, a Najaf governate spokesperson. All corpses are numbered and photographed and the location of burial is noted. Figures are recorded in a register in the hope that families will eventually be able to identify the bodies. Thousands more bodies may have been hastily buried in the deserts surrounding Najaf. Before the US invasion of Iraq, the volunteers buried up to 40 people every month. In the occupation's worst months, that figure increased 50-fold as volunteers buried an average of more than 2,000 anonymous occupation victims every month, CNN journalist Michael Ware reported on September 15, 2007. Already on September 17, 2003, Robert Fisk wrote: "In Baghdad, up to 70 corpses - of Iraqis killed by gunfire ‐ are brought to the mortuaries each day. In Najaf, for example, the cemetery authorities record the arrival of the bodies of up to 20 victims of violence a day," a 15-fold increase compared to pre-war levels. And the situation gradually worsened from 2003. It is worth mentioning that the buried bodies before the occupation were also from different parts of Iraq, because Shia used to bury their dead in Najaf as it is the holy place.
When we take all these figures into account, a simple calculation suffices to conclude that probably 80,000 unidentified bodies have been buried in the cemetery of Najaf since March 2003. And remember: bodies that are brought to the morgue, be they identified or unidentified, are mostly direct victims of violence.
Let's Count !
Let’s do a rough count of the bodies brought to the mortuary in Baghdad between 2003-2008 and the unidentified bodies buried in Najaf:
2003 – 17.100 (70x30-200x9) 2004 – 7.200 (800-200x12)
2005 – 10.800 (1.100-200 x 12) 2006 – 33.600 (3.000-200 x 12)
2007 - A report from IraqSlogger of August 2007 revealed that the U.S. presence in Baghdad during the "surge" had shown virtually no progress in stemming the gruesome sectarian death squads pervading the capital. Between June 18 and July 18, 2007, up to 592 unidentified bodies were found dumped in different parts of Baghdad. Most of the bodies found by the police - an average of 20 a day - were bound, blindfolded and shot execution style, victims of sectarian violence carried out by death squads. Many also bore signs of torture or mutilation. Despite official Iraqi and U.S. statements to the contrary, the reports indicated that the number of unidentified bodies in the capital had risen again to pre-surge levels in May and June 2007.
Let’s take for 2007 the same number as in 2005, OK?
2008 - UNAMI's Human Rights report for the period from January to June 2008 stated: "Large numbers of unidentified bodies were found in Diyala, Nineveh, Anbar and Diwaniyah and mainly in Baghdad. Many of these bodies bore signs of torture, some were blind‐folded and others were decapitated."
And maybe for 2008 we can take the number of 2004. Reasonable, no?
If we add these numbers, we count for the Baghdad morgue already..... 86.700 extra bodies that were brought to the morgue compared to pre-invasion levels. Then we add the 80,000 corpses of the cemetery in Najaf and the figure rises to 166,700 bodies. These figures do not include Fallujah, Basra, Mosul, Ramadi, Baquba, Al Qaim, Nassiriya, Kerbala, Haditha etc, and neither the victims of the bombing during the "surge".
Need I go on to show that a simple calculation shows that the figure of 120.000, 150.000 or 189,000 is completely ridiculous?
Further: Fallujah was not included in the cluster of the Lancet 2 study of 2006. In that case we would have seen even higher estimates.
Brown University's "Cost of War" Project garnered a fair amount of media attention this month by announcing that a new report had tallied 190,000 deaths, a significantly lower figure than 1.4 million. But there was no new report, no new research. There was just a paper by Brown professor Neta Crawford from a year-and-a-half ago in which she picked and chose what numbers to use from other sources. She said she was choosing not to use the Johns Hopkins (a.k.a. Lancet) studies or the Opinion Research Bureau study because they had not been updated and had been criticized. She chose instead to use Iraq Body Count, even while quoting an MIT professor pointing out that IBC admits its tally is probably half the size of actual deaths. What IBC means is that it is aware it is missing huge numbers of deaths; it has no basis for knowing how many. Even doubling IBC data, which would have produced 215,000 as of the 2010 paper Crawford quotes, leaves out combatants, and leaves out indirect or nonviolent deaths caused by war, and even leaves out civilians we know to have been counted by the U.S. government thanks to WikiLeaks. Crawford admits that, even adding up all these numbers may give a very low count. "Iraqi officials at the Ministry of Health," she notes, "may have been systematically encouraged to under-report deaths. One person who works at the Baghdad central morgue statistics office told National Public Radio that 'By orders of the minister's office, we cannot talk about the real numbers of deaths. This has been the case since 2004. . . . I would go home and look at the news. The minister would say 10 people got killed all over Iraq, while I had received in that day more then 50 dead bodies just in Baghdad. It's always been like that -- they would say one thing, but the reality was much worse.'" And so, given all those concerns, Crawford chose to stand by Iraq Body Count. After all, it doesn't get criticized.
INJURIES: How Many People Has the United States Wounded in Iraq?
Iraq Body Count estimates three people with injuries for every death. At that rate, 1.4 million deaths (thus far) would mean 4.2 million injured. That is a calculation that does not include every form of trauma or suffering; the Iraqi victims of mental trauma are almost certainly in the millions. Nor does the statistic include injuries to future generations in the form of birth defects - which have become so common in Fallujah.
(From David Swanson's report on 18 maart 2013: Iraq War Among World's Worst Events - Ever More Shocked, Never Yet Awed http://warisacrime.org/Iraq)
Please continue reading:
The Iraqi government has issued instructions to all security and health offices not to give out body count numbers to the media. Dozens of bodies are found every day across Baghdad. "We are not authorized to issue any numbers, but I can tell you that we are still receiving human bodies every day; the men have no identity on them," a doctor at the Baghdad morgue told IPS on February 19, 2008. Between 50 and 180 bodies were dumped on Baghdad's streets each day at the height of the killing, and many bore signs of torture, such as drill holes or cigarette burns. Political pressure to lower death toll On August 10, 2006 Reuters mentioned that Iraq's Health, Interior and Defence ministries consistently provided lower figures than those released by the morgue.
The Guardian reported on March 19, 2008: "There is no shortage of estimates, but they vary enormously. The Iraqi ministry of health initially tried to keep a count based on morgue records, but then stopped releasing figures under pressure from the US-‐supported government in the Green Zone. The director of the Baghdad morgue, already under stress because of the mounting horror of his work, was threatened with death on the grounds that by publishing statistics he was causing embarrassment. The families of the bereaved wanted him to tell the truth, but like other professionals he came to the view that he had to flee Iraq. Dr Salih Mahdi Motlab al-Hasanawi, the health minister appointed after the ministry's ban on releasing official morgue figures, said the survey was prompted by controversy over civilian casualties.
Media-based estimates miss 70-95% of all Iraqi deaths
The press and thus also IraqBodyCount use the twisted and downplayed figures released by the Quisling Iraqi government. Most journalists in the mainstream press keep on fixing the number of civilian casualties at around 120.000. IraqBodyCount does valuable work in collecting data of the deaths that are reported in the mainstream press. But their figures cannot serve as a scientific norm to establish a relevant estimate of Iraqi casualties.
Let’s give a few examples: Twenty thousand of Iraq’s 34,000 registered physicians left Iraq after the U.S. invasion. As of April 2009, fewer than 2,000 returned, the same as the number who were killed during the course of the war. Iraq bodycount has some 70 doctors in their database of casualties, which means that they have only listed 3,5% of the estimated number of killed physicians.
Iraq Bodycount has 108 academics listed in its database. The BRussells Tribunal has a partial list of 448 murdered academics, compiled from different sources. Although that list is very incomplete, Iraq Bodycount lists only 24% of the academic casualties reported by the BRussells Tribunal.
Perhaps the best monitored category of victims in this war are the media professionals. The BRussells Tribunal has a list of 354 killed media professionals. Al-Iraqiya director general Habib al-Sadr told AFP in September 2007 that at least 75 members of his staff have been killed since he took over the channel in 2005 and another 68 wounded. The BRussells Tribunal list of killed media professionals had at that moment less than 1/3rd of this number in its database. But the number of Iraq Bodycount stands at only 241 casualties.
Les Roberts, author of the two Lancet studies of Iraq mortality, defended himself on 20 September 2007 against allegations that his surveys were "deeply flawed": "A study of 13 war affected countries presented at a recent Harvard conference found over 80% of violent deaths in conflicts go unreported by the press and governments. City officials in the Iraqi city of Najaf were recently quoted on Middle East Online stating that 40,000 unidentified bodies have been buried in that city since the start of the conflict. When speaking to the Rotarians in a speech covered on C-SPAN on September 5th, H.E. Samir Sumaida’ie, the Iraqi Ambassador to the US, stated that there were 500,000 new widows in Iraq. The Baker-Hamilton Commission similarly found that the Pentagon under-counted violent incidents by a factor of 10. Finally, the respected British polling firm ORB released the results of a poll estimating that 22% of households had lost a member to violence during the occupation of Iraq, equating to 1.2 million deaths. This finding roughly verifies a less precisely worded BBC poll last February that reported 17% of Iraqis had a household member who was a victim of violence. There are now two polls and three scientific surveys all suggesting the official figures and media-based estimates in Iraq have missed 70-95% of all deaths. The evidence suggests that the extent of under-reporting by the media is only increasing with time."
A memo by the MoD's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Roy Anderson, stated that: "The (Lancet) study design is robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to "best practice" in this area, given the difficulties of data collection and verification in the present circumstances in Iraq."
In an e-mail, released by the British Foreign Office, in which an official asks about the Lancet report, the official writes: "However, the survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones."
Medialens wrote on 03/10/2007:
Consider that a study of deaths in Guatemala from 1960 to 1996 by Patrick Ball et al at the University of California, Berkeley (1999) found that numbers of murders reported by the media in fact decreased as violence increased. Ball described the "problem of relying on the journalistic record" in evaluating numbers killed:
"When the level of violence increased dramatically in the late 1970s and early 1980s, numbers of reported violations in the press stayed very low. In 1981, one of the worst years of state violence, the numbers fall towards zero. The press reported almost none of the rural violence." (Patrick Ball, Paul Kobrak, and Herbert F. Spirer, 'State Violence in Guatemala, 1960-1996: A Quantitative Reflection’, 1999; http://shr.aaas.org/guatemala/ciidh/qr/english/chap7.html)
"Throughout the 1980 to 1983 period newspapers documented only a fraction of the killings and disappearances committed by the State. The maximum monthly value on the graph [see link above] is only 60 for a period when monthly extra-judicial murders regularly totaled in the thousands."
Ball explained that "the press stopped reporting the violence beginning in September 1980. Perhaps not coincidentally, the database lists seven murders of journalists in July and August of that year".
And here's Les Roberts again in March 2011, comparing the Wikileaks war logs with IraqBodyCount's figures:
The release which supposedly included over 391,000 classified DoD reports described violent events after 2003 including 109,000 deaths, the majority (66,000) being Iraqi civilians. At the time of the release, the most commonly cited figure for civilian casualties came from Iraqbodycount.org (IBC), a group based in England that compiles press and other descriptions of killings in Iraq. In late October, IBC estimated the civilian war death tally to be about 104,000. Virtually all authorities, including IBC themselves, acknowledge that this count must be incomplete, although the fraction missed is debated. The press coverage of the Iraq War Logs release tended to focus on the crude consistency between the number recorded by WikiLeaks, 66,000 since the start of 2004, and the roughly 104,000 recorded deaths from Iraqbodycount since March of 2003. The Washington Post even ran an editorial entitled, "WikiLeaks’s leaks mostly confirm earlier Iraq reporting" concluding that the Iraq War Log reports revealed nothing new.
A research team from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health released a report this week analyzing the amount of overlap between the 66,000 WikiLeaks reports and the previously known listing of IBC. The team developed a system for grading the likelihood that the WikiLeaks War Log record matched an entry in IBC, scoring the match between 0 (not a match) to 3 (very likely a match). The matching records were graded by at least two reviewers and then a third reviewer arbitrated any discrepancies. The conclusion? Only 19% of the WikiLeaks reports of civilian deaths had been previously recorded by IBC. With so little overlap between the two lists, it is almost certain that both tallies combined are missing the majority of civilian deaths, suggesting many hundreds of thousands have died.
The discussion about casualties is not over yet, but we can safely put forward the number of 1,5 million excess deaths caused by this war, most of them from violent causes. An archive of articles about the heated discussions in the press and blogs on civilian death counts during the US occupation can be found on the BRussells Tribunal website:http://www.brusselstribunal.org/Lancet111006.htm
Let me conclude with the words of Prof. Raymond Baker in his keynote speech at the International Seminar in Defense of Iraqi Academia in Ghent 9-11 March 2011:
There is something blinding about destruction on so terrible a scale. There is something just too painful about debating methods for calculating the number of slaughtered innocents when the figures almost immediately take us well beyond hundreds and hundreds of thousands of human souls. How many pages and pages of WikiLeaks reports of killings at checkpoints, unspeakable torture, random murders by unchecked contractors can one read with the revulsion for the occupiers and compassion for the victims they deserve. The mind closes down, or so it seems. That may be one of God’s mercies but it is one that should be resisted.