January 9, 2008

New study: 150,000 violent deaths in Iraq in first 3 years

I blogged at length in October 2006 about the controversial Lancet study that claimed 600,000 deaths by violence in Iraq. I eventually realized it was probably exaggerated because, paradoxically enough, Iraq was too violent for the study to have been carried out the way the authors claim:

Maybe what happened is that the interviewers didn't actually go much door-to-door at random, but instead arrived in a neighborhood, put the word out, and then either had people who wanted to talk to them come see them or were invited to the homes of people who wanted to see them. That might account for the very high % of people with death certificates available.

Or it could be that the interviewers got in contact ahead of time with neighborhood leaders to see if their presence would be welcome to reduce their chances of being killed. (That's not good random surveying hygiene, but are you going to blame them?) Then, in a neighborhood where the local big shot wanted their presence, he might have passed the word around to aggrieved families to get ready to tell their stories to the interviewers when they showed up. This could cause a bias upward in the number of deaths reported.

The more I think about the mechanics of carrying out the survey on the street without getting killed, the more I suspect that the Iraqi interviewers didn't actually implement the purely random survey design that the American professors from MIT and Johns Hopkins dreamed up for them. It would be nuts to to let luck determine which streets you'd choose, as the report claims they did. You'd want to only go where you knew you'd be safe. Then you'd tell the Americans you did exactly what they told you to do.

I eventually reached this bottom line:

That number seems high to me. I really can't say, but it just feels excessive. But if you cut it in half to "only" 300,000, would I feel all that dubious? Probably not.

Here's the bottom line: I doubt that the Iraqi death toll has reached 600,000 ... yet. But the odds are awfully high that, sooner or later, it will.

Now a new World Health Organization study says that in the first 3.0 years of this war that is now 4.8 years old, 150,000 people were killed:

Both teams used the same method -- a random sample of houses throughout the country. For the new study, however, surveyors visited 23 times as many places and interviewed five times as many households. Surveyors also got more outside supervision in the recent study; that wasn't possible in the spring of 2006 when the Johns Hopkins survey was conducted.

Despite reaching a lower estimate of total deaths, the epidemiologists found what they termed "a massive death toll in the wake of the 2003 invasion."

Iraq's population-wide mortality rate nearly doubled, and the death rate from violence increased tenfold after the coalition attack. Men between 15 and 60 were at the greatest risk. Their death rate from all causes tripled, and their risk of dying a violent death went up elevenfold.

So, extrapolating on this estimate for the subsequent 1.8 years of war (the first half of which was quite bloody, while the first year after the invasion was fairly peaceful), the total death toll so far would be in the 225-250,000 range.

By the way, I've also estimated that U.S. armed forces fire about 275,000 bullets in anger each day.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

is that small arms rounds or all guns combined? either way it brings a new perspective to the debate between 223 versus 308.

Anonymous said...

What is the sex ratio of the Iraqi population by now ? This is after the war with Iran and the invasion of Kuwait.

Anonymous said...

275,000 per day? No wonder ammunition prices have tripled here in the states.

I say give 'em all Mauser bolt-action rifles with a five round capacity. That way they'll have to make each shot count.

James said...

In other words about 1% in five years. (I'm not pooh-poohing this though it might sound like I am.)

Anonymous said...

I believe the study also found a very substantial rise in the *nonviolent* death rate in Iraq, basically having to do with the breakdown in hospital and medical services. This could also be chalked up to the conflict.

It's a big disaster any way you cut it...millions of refugees as well.

Anonymous said...

Neither number (deaths or bullets) is in any way accurate Steve and you know it.

ROE restrict how troops can react when fired upon. They cannot under any circumstances fire upon mosques, unless specific permission is given by regional commanders, and must take steps to minimize any damage to said mosques. Even when taking fire from mosques. ROE in Iraq are VERY restrictive and a major source of guys getting killed. Bottom line guys can't fire back. You can check out any Milblog of guys who ARE ACTUALLY THERE such as Blackfive or MudVille Gazette or Michael Yon.

If there were 150K deaths there would be no place to put all the bodies. While there is no question that killing (mostly by AQ btw) increased radically during 2004-6, Baghdad taxi drivers are griping they don't have any more passengers to the morgue.

Nobody knows how many were killed, and it's likely that only long after the war could the true numbers be established by examining grave sites.

Nor is MQ correct. There are NOT millions of refugees. There were about half a million Sunni Refugees who went to Jordan or Syria. Many have now returned.

There were not 10 million refugees as predicted. There was no setting the oil fields on fire as predicted. There was no 100K US dead in the battle of Baghdad as predicted. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan did not fall under refugee floods. Pretty much MOST of the predictions made before the war by opponents were as false as that made by anti-Afghan War opponents (Hersh predicted "quagmire" and Americans getting slaughtered right before Kabul fell).

Opponents were so wrong, and measureably wrong, that no one listened to them. They had zilch credibility since everything they predicted didn't come to pass.

It took someone like Petraeus who could find his butt in the dark without a map and with either hand to point out the obvious -- an insurgency needs to be fought at the bottom, by splitting off the tribes and tribal structure from the outsiders.

Anonymous said...

Despite reaching a lower estimate of total deaths, the epidemiologists found what they termed "a massive death toll in the wake of the 2003 invasion."

The fact that two random surveys could come to such radically different figures doesn't increase my confidence in surveys taken under such circumstances. I noticed many of those who invested a lot into defending the Lancet study as reliable (like commentators over at Tim Lambert's blog) seem much more interested in sarcastically attacking David Kane's criticisms of the first study than explaining the gaping discrepancy between the Lancet figure and this one. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

275,000 per day? No wonder ammunition prices have tripled here in the states.

I think the blog Confederate Yankee has covered this one several times before. Despite what the news wires have sometimes reported, it appears that post-9/11 law enforcement is to blame for the high cost of ammo rather than the military.

Ross said...

Taking the deaths up to early 2006 and extrapolating them through 2007 seems a bit dodgy given the success of the Surge.

Anonymous said...

"If there were 150K deaths there would be no place to put all the bodies."

Oh the irony! Evil recycles a favorite argument of what is no doubt one of his most cherished groups of enemies. Does this mean Evil is now 1/40th as wicked as a Holocaust denier? Or that he is, as per usual blowing smoke? I could go on but why bother?

Anonymous said...

We don't know how many people got killed over there, although the "official" (conservative) US death toll is knocking on the door of 4,000 people.

Another interesting question:

What did they die for?

Oh, I remember now: to stop Sadaam's drone planes from nuking Brooklyn! It was part of his arsenal of "weapons of mass destruction" the supposed existence of which Bush infamously ridiculed after the fact here (starts 20 seconds in).

On to Tehran, keyboard commandos! We'll get those Nazi - er, fascist - er, Islamofascists yet.

Anonymous said...


“Opponents were so wrong, and measureably wrong, that no one listened to them. They had zilch credibility since everything they predicted didn't come to pass.”

* Saddam – AQ – Prague - 9/11 Link
* Weapons of Mass Destruction
* Osama, Dead or Alive
* Flowers greeting us in Baghdad
* Tyrannical Saddam root of all problems in Iraq
* Democracy blooming in the Iraqi desert
* Domino theory spreading democracy throughout Middle East
* Mission accomplished

Yes, those idiot NeoCons were so wrong and measureably so on just about everything. Everything the NeoCons touched turned to ash, blood and debt. They have zilch credibility, but where are they today? NeoCons are lining up useful idiots in the next Guilliani, McCain or Clinton administration, quashing any opposition or truth telling in the MSM and opening their bottomless bag of dirty tricks on critics.

Anonymous said...

Anon -- you are missing my point. Obviously you've never worked in an organization at anything other than the cubicle level.

No one will listen if forecasts are wrong. People forecast defeat and destruction in Afghanistan and they were not just wrong but spectacularly wrong. They again forecast 100K American deaths in Baghdad and again they were spectacularly WRONG as Saddam's regime just fell apart.

After that no one listened, because the LOST CREDIBILITY by WRONG CALLS.

Reality check -- if you want someone other than the Slashdot/AICN trolls or your cubical buddy to listen to you it is VITAL you make correct PREDICTIONS.

No one in upper management anywhere gives a damn about arguments about "morality" since that's their call. They want predictions on what's going to happen. Revenues up or down, casualty counts, etc. Get it wrong off the bat and no one will listen later.

As for the true death count, and ammo count, there are easy checks to figure out who's right.

During the 1991 Idiocy aka "Tell the Shiites to rebel against Saddam then leave them hanging" the estimates are of around 200,000 people killed by Saddam and his Army. Enough mass graves and bodies from this period have been found to make this estimate look fairly accurate.

When you kill someone they don't just vanish like a vampire turned to dust. Their body hangs around and someone has to do something. Muslim custom forbids cremation so the bodies there must be buried. Which requires people to cart them off and bury them, in accordance to Muslim custom (within a day).

If there were 150K over the first three years, there should be an additional 150K graves. Indeed mass graves. And given the number and nature of digital cameras and video cameras of every single soldier and marine this should be well documented. There would be no way to keep that secret.

Most of the deaths reported have come from suicide bombs or various bombs set off by AQ. These have been in the hundreds of death for the larger ones and don't seem to indicate ENOUGH deaths to make that estimate reasonable. Soldiers and Marines who have served in Iraq have estimated "around" 65,000 or so. Which is high enough.

But hey, who are you going to believe, Steve or soldiers and marines who were there? And it's easy enough to check -- just go to Blackfive or Mudville Gazette and ask if I'm right or Steve is right.

As for the number of rounds fired, let's check. There's about 135-145K troops at the height of the surge. But only about 35-45K combat troops (the rest are MPs, Mechanics, etc.)

How many combat encounters per week does the average combat patrol have? That's hard to say, but going by what I've read on mil-blogs I'll start out with 2 per 14 days. Average rounds fired per soldier/marine? Let's say two 30 round mags, i.e. 60 rounds. [This may be an over-estimation since most Mil-blogs say the usual encounters are IED/sniper with intermittent fire and they have restrictive ROE but let's go with it for now.] Multiply them all together and you get the "average" of 385,714 rounds per day.

Now that's a lot of rounds. Since Saddam didn't have a whole lot of .223 ammo on hand, every round fired needs to be replaced. Which needs to be trucked in. Which have constraints -- only so many trucks, drivers, ammo being trucked in and then distributed to more remote bases etc.

Soldiers will always gripe about being low on ammo or anything else likely to get them killed. If ammo were being used at this rate it's highly likely guys would run out of ammo and blog about it.

One thing about modern technology -- it's nearly impossible to keep bad news and anything else secret with all the blogs, cameras, video cameras etc.

I don't know what the true number of ammo used per day but I suspect it's far lower than estimated due to the "sanity check" of physical constraints of moving replacement ammo.

Anonymous said...

Evil NeoCon

Lving up to your moniker again. Cubicle worker? Did you oil your way upto a middle management toady in something as ultimately unaccountable like government contract work?

So you ignored all the main bullet points on how Neocons like you have totally mismanaged this Administration’s foreign policy by countering with an argument that I didn’t make: body count projections. Although every life lost to this utopian neo-con world revolution is one too much, this sad statistics is a result, not driver of how we got into this entanglement.

Your astounding word count does not compensate for your lack in sincerity or logic here. Even addressing the point of body count projections that I never made, you disingenuously pull out the most extreme estimations from the innumerate loony left. That's not a position I presented.

Informed opinion before the invasion knew Saddam would fall far easier than in Gulf War I after being weakened by a decade of sanctions and demoralized by the example we set in 1991. Most Iraqi soldiers just ran away before we could even engage them in 2003.

Anonymous said...

Evil Neocon forgot to mention that violent death is in fact healthy, particularly for Arabs.

Opponents were so wrong, and measureably wrong, that no one listened to them. They had zilch credibility since everything they predicted didn't come to pass.

Blackwhite: "Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say the black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary."


Anonymous said...

As usual with neocons, Evil is warrning with Stupid and it's hard to tell which will win.

Demographers and government statistical agencies tell us that 2.4 million people die each year in the United States! But WHERE ARE THE MASS GRAVES?? WHERE ARE THEY HIDDEN?? This is clearly a GIGANTIC HOAX!

On refugees, best estimates from both the Iraqi government and the U.N. are that there are over 2 million Iraqis currently living outside of Iraq, most of whom fled since the war. Sorry, them's the facts. Very few have returned, although the administration PR people play up every busload of a few dozen coming back.

We now have multiple studies showing hundreds and thousands of excess Iraqi deaths since the invasion.

Nobody forecast hundreds of thousands of American deaths in an invasion of Iraq, that's a canard to avoid focusing on the actual and documented failure of the invasion, which failed for quite predictable reasons. All opponents of the war said was that Iraq was no threat to the U.S. (true) and an invasion would not result in a peaceful, pro-U.S. democracy in the heart of the middle east (also true, as true as it has ever been, although Petraeus has made progress toward at least pacifying the place).

A major thing one can learn on the net is how resistant ideologues are to dealing with reality.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you struck out big-time on this one. Simple commonsense should have indicated that the studies showing 600-900 deaths were patent exaggerations.

Anonymous said...

I'm with tommy here. Professionals working with state of the art tools can't come to the same number twice in a row, which makes me suspect that we just aren't going to get a correct count right now.

One factor that may have to do with the death numbers is that apparently, local militias/tribal leaders are working more with the US now than a few years ago. That might open up more places to be surveyed safely, and it might also lead to people being encouraged by their friendly neighborhood warlord to tell a happier story, since the warlord doesn't want the Americans to leave until after they've helped him clean out his ethnic enemies, er, I mean, Al Qaida in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

This new study is a joke. Andrew Cockburn dissects it nicely:

Gross Distortions, Sloppy Methodology and Tendentious Reporting:

How the New England Journal of Medicine Undercounted Iraqi Civilian Deaths


The original Lancet study was excellent, even though a few noisy Zionists did not like it.