Aug 09 2007

Iraqi Deaths to Cross 1 Million Mark

| the entire program

IraqGUEST: Patrick McElwee, Policy Analyst at JustForeignPolicy.org

US forces in Iraq claimed to have killed 32 suspected militants in a raid in eastern Baghdad earlier this week. But Iraqi police and witnesses said that the raid killed nine civilians, including two women, and wounded six others. The death toll in Iraq keeps mounting daily. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University last year concluded that 601,000 violent Iraqi deaths were attributable to the US invasion as of July 2006. Now, the non-partisan institute, JustForeignPolicy.org has updated that study and are expecting the number of Iraqi deaths to cross the 1 million mark some time next week.

View the frequently updated web counter here: www.justforeignpolicy.org/iraq/iraqdeaths.html

A detailed explanation of the methodology behind the estimate is available here:
www.justforeignpolicy.org/iraq/counterexplanation.html

Rough Transcript:

Sonali Kolhatkar: Welcome to Uprising, Patrick.

Patrick McElwee: Thanks for having me on.

Sonali Kolhatkar: Thank you very much for joining us. It’s an incredibly sobering number. It is hard to imagine what one million deaths attributable to the US invasion is, really, in human terms. First, explain to our listeners how you came up with this number.

Patrick McElwee:
Sure, while it’s a really sobering number and it is very startling, we think it is the best current estimate of Iraqi deaths. Last year, as you said, researchers from Johns Hopkins University conducted a rigorous scientific study of Iraqi deaths; and it is really the most recent and the only rigorous study we have of Iraqi deaths. And, like you said, they estimated as of last July that 601,000 Iraqis had died violently as a result of the invasion. So, what we are basically doing is extrapolating from their number. In the absence of another scientific study of that nature, we think that this extrapolation represents the best estimate. And it is currently just under one million Iraqi deaths that occurred so far.

Sonali Kolhatkar: So, are you assuming the same rate of killings, then, that the Lancet study used?

Patrick McElwee: No, actually we are not. There is another source on Iraqi deaths that is out there, folks may have heard about, the Iraq Body Count. They keep an online tabulation of all media reported deaths. So, all deaths that have been reported in at least two English-language media sources. And so we are assuming that, while they are not capturing all the deaths in Iraq – a scientific study is really needed for that – they are just capturing a subset of the deaths, those that are reported in the press, they are still capturing more or less the rate of deaths. So that if the rate of deaths in Iraq has increased over the last year, then the rate of media-reported deaths has also increased and vice versa. If the deaths had decreased, then the media-reported deaths would have decreased.

Sonali Kolhatkar: Well, that’s assuming that the media is still covering the deaths at the same rate as they were before. If the media in fact has gotten less able to keep track, then it is a serious underestimate.

Patrick McElwee: That’s right. It is very possible that our extrapolation leads to a serious underestimate, because if it’s gotten more violent in Iraq, and the media is confined to increasingly small areas of safe passage, then our estimate would be an underestimate. That’s correct.

Sonali Kolhatkar: How does this estimate compare to what the United States military keeps track of and claims are the deaths of Iraqis?

Patrick McElwee: Well, the US military made it very clear going into Iraq that they would do no body counts on Iraqi civilians. So, they have made no effort to actually come up with a number. Now, every now and then the President will say “35,000 Iraqis have died,” or a number in that ballpark. We also get numbers from the Iraqi government, but they are also very politically based. For example, last year, before the Johns Hopkins study came out, the health minister of Iraq was saying that there were 50,000 Iraqis who had been killed since the beginning of the invasion. The Johns Hopkins study came out and the week following, the Iraqi health minister tripled his estimate to 150,000 Iraqis, presumably to make it more believable. So there is no [inaudible] that’s anything but political.

Sonali Kolhatkar: So, let’s talk about exactly how the deaths are counted. You are basically counting those that Iraq Body Count uses, or keeps track of, based on media reports. This is what, civilian deaths due to US bombings but also deaths of Iraqis at the hands of other Iraqis?

Patrick McElwee: Sure, that’s what the Iraq Body Count is counting, but we are only using the Iraq Body Count for this extrapolation. The numbers in the Johns Hopkins study are all Iraqis. It doesn’t attempt to distinguish between civilians or combatants. And they are deaths from all sources. That is right. From coalition, from bombs and car bombs. From all sources.

Sonali Kolhatkar: Is there any sense that you get that there are researchers, or even the same researchers from Johns Hopkins might be going to update their study to either confirm or better estimate the number that you have come up with?

Patrick McElwee:
Well, the researchers who did the Johns Hopkins study are calling for someone to do a follow-up study. They have done, too. They did one back in 2004 and then one last year, in 2006. These studies aren’t easy to conduct. They involve some folks taking their lives into their hands to get this data. You know, it’s really incumbent on the occupiers of Iraq to do these kinds of studies. It is their obligation under the Geneva Conventions, as an occupying force, to take care of the Iraqi population, and it is also important for the debate that come. So that we know we are informed about what we should do in Iraq; whether it is time for the war to end. And not only what we should do in Iraq, but what we should do in the future. Will we allow our government to invade other countries? Should they invade Iran? And how big should our military be? Does our military need to be big enough to invade and occupy other countries? I mean, is this something that the American people think we ought to be doing?

Sonali Kolhatkar: What does this number of one million mean in terms of comparing it to other conflicts? You know, Rwanda comes to mind, but certainly that’s not a comparison that you ever hear in the main stream media.

Patrick McElwee: That’s right. I mean already as of last year, the 600,000 Iraqis that had died, that’s comparable to how many people were killed in the Rwandan genocide. Most estimates are around 650,000 people killed in Rwanda. So, to have had a million Iraqis killed, that’s more than died in the Rwandan genocide. That’s more than anyone says were killed under Saddam Hussein, or by Saddam Hussein’s forces. It’s a devastating number. It really is. And, you know, you have to add on top of that of course the two million people who are estimated to have fled Iraq to other countries, and the additional about 1.8 million people who have been displaced from their homes inside the country of Iraq.

Sonali Kolhatkar: Patrick, let’s talk about responsibility here. It seems that the United States military may only hold itself responsible, if that, for the deaths of civilians killed from US bombs as “collateral damage”, but probably not any of the deaths that are a result of the unfolding civil war in Iraq. What do you think about that?

Patrick McElwee: That is clearly not an acceptable position. The deaths of the civil war are clearly deaths that have happened because the US invaded Iraq. The civil war was clearly unleashed by processes that began when the US invaded Iraq, and probably the most important cause of the civil war was the basic dismantling of the Iraqi state. But even if we set those deaths aside, if we look at the number Johns Hopkins came up with. They actually asked people how their family members were killed. And in about 45% of the cases, they did not record an answer, because if there was any uncertainty on the part of the family, they didn’t record an answer. But for those where they did record an answer, 56% of the time the family said that their family members had been killed by coalition forces.

Sonali Kolhatkar: 56% of the time? So we are talking about more deaths at the hands directly of US forces than of other Iraqis?

Patrick McElwee: That’s right. That’s what they found. And this sounds unbelievable to people, but what we need to remember is that there is a lot going on in Iraq that is not being reported. For example, in January of this year, Brit Hume from Fox News went as an embedded reporter with some pilots on an air strike in Iraq. That air strike, they bombed 25 targets that day. None of the damage from where those bombs fell was reported in the press. Every day, for the past several years, US forces have gone on about 1,000 patrols every day into hostile neighborhoods, going from house to house, apartment to apartment. Since February that number has increased to about 5,000, as a result of the so-called surge.

Sonali Kolhatkar: So there are even more of those happening this year than last year.

Patrick McElwee: That’s right. And lethal force is often engaged during these patrols, and it’s just not reported.

Sonali Kolhatkar: So, Patrick, at this point, using this number that your organization and that you have helped come up with, one million Iraqis, at least as of next week, are expected to have died as a result of the US invasion. What are you calling, for what sort of action are you calling on the American people to take?

Patrick McElwee: We are asking people to contact Congressmen. Certainly, we have some momentum in this country after last November’s elections to get out, and the American people clearly want this war to end. And so what’s needed now is some organized pressure on our leaders to end this war. And so, on our website, we have various actions that are constantly updated, so folks can write to Congress, they can get together and watch videos and basically organize in their communities.

Sonali Kolhatkar: I understand you have a petition based on this number?

Patrick McElwee: That’s right. We do have a petition asking Congress to do a study of how many Iraqis have died. It’s important for making policy, it’s important also for things like answering the question of whether the United States should pay reparations to Iraq for the damage it has done there.

Sonali Kolhatkar: And again the website is justforeignpolicy.org. Patrick McElwee, I want to thank you very much for joining us today.

Patrick McElwee: Thank you for having me on.

Sonali Kolhatkar: Patrick McElwee is a policy analyst at the non-partisan organization justforeignpolicy.org, and it’s at that website that you can see the frequently updated web counter as well, that is counting Iraqi deaths directly due to the US invasion. The number of deaths is expected to surpass one million next week, and it is essentially extrapolating from the study that was done by Johns Hopkins University researchers and published in the Lancet last year.

Special Thanks to Claudia Greyeyes for transcribing this interview

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Iraqi Deaths to Cross 1 Million Mark”

  1. Michael Hartzogon 14 Aug 2007 at 2:15 pm

    One would have to have their head in the sand to believe that justforeignpolicy.org and the Lancet Iraq death count numbers are anything but far left propaganda. Even left leaning media (CNN, ABC, CBS, etc)have the count well under 100,000. The most common and least politicized numbers are closer to 30-33,000 deaths. Granted it would be great if there were no deaths, but don’t lie to glorify an agenda. How real is the agenda when one has to lie.

  2. x xon 25 Jan 2008 at 11:58 pm

    Just replace US with Iraqi forces.

  3. Garethon 09 Feb 2009 at 7:50 am

    The same methodology was used in Rowanda by the same researchers. No one complained then. Why ? Because its the best method currently known. Who has there head stuck in the sand ?
    Unfortunately the idea that CNN, ABC, CBS are left leaning is just bizarre.