Home / Robert Farley / Lancet



Most people have heard by now of the casualty report in the Lancet, which estimates that around 100000 Iraqi civilians have died during the war. Fred Kaplan does a good job of questioning some of the analysis, as does Shannon Love.

I would be pretty surprised to learn that casualties were actually anywhere near 100000 over the last year, and really surprised if that number didn’t include military dead. Iraq Body Count has a range of 14000-16000 right now, which is almost certainly too low, as it only includes deaths reported in the press. But only 1/6 of the total? I don’t buy it. Moreover, no other estimates of civilian casualties exceed 20000 or so, which makes the study in the Lancet quite an outlier.

My best guess as to current civilian casualties would be about 20000, including both the published numbers at IBC and some reasonable estimate about what they’ve missed. This is bad enough, and more than likely would have been killed under the Hussein regime in ten years. A somewhat more interesting question to me is that of military casualties. If the justification for the war were security, then military casualties on the other side don’t matter all that much. If the justification is humanitarian, they matter a lot, because Iraq is presumably being liberated for the soldiers as well as the civilians. IBC, however, does not count military casualties or insurgent deaths. The most commonly accepted estimate for military casualties during the invasion is 6000, which seems very, very low to me. The kill estimate for the first convoy through Baghdad was well over a thousand, which would make rest of the invasion remarkably clean. I would guess that the number is quite a bit higher; the Guardian has estimated between 15-45 thousand, and the lower number is probably closer to being right. For insurgents, who knows? A lot of numbers were quoted during the suppressions of both Sadr uprisings, the first attack on Falluja, and various other counter-insurgency operations. The number of dead insurgents must be close to 10000, and will probably go north very quickly when we attack Falluja again next week.

So, in my view the Lancet study is too high, but the inclusion of military and insurgent casualties would render a number much higher than that which we’re accustomed to talking about. It’s hardly necessary to mention that a high death rate among Iraqis throws any humanitarian justification of the invasion into question. Also, don’t bother mentioning the deaths caused by sanctions; people are still starving and dying of disease in Iraq, because we can’t manage to control much of the territory.

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