Dying by the Numbers
The Johns Hopkins study of Iraqi deaths since the US invasion has stirred much discussion, mostly prejudiced and uninformed since it was made public a few days ago. I've been skeptical of he 600,000 plus number that seems to be the most commonly cited figure but I have no doubt that the death toll is somewhere toward the lower end of the range that fits within the margin of error, somewhere in the vicinity of 300,000. That number seems intuitively right to me.
My intution is borne out in Zeyad's latest post at Healing Iraq:
Simply put, the methods used by the study are valid, but in Iraq’s case, where the level of violence is not consistent throughout the country, I feel that the study should have been done differently. 654,965 excess civilian deaths is an absurd number. My personal guesstimate would be half that number, but the total count is not the point now.
Now I am aware that the study is being used here by both sides of the argument in the context of domestic American politics, and that pains me. As if it is different for Iraqis whether 50,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of the war or 600,000. The bottom line is that there is a steady increase in civilian deaths, that the health system is rapidly deteriorating, and that things are clearly not going in the right direction. The people who conducted the survey should be commended for attempting to find out, with the limited methods they had available. On the other hand, the people who are attacking them come across as indifferent to the suffering of Iraqis, especially when they have made no obvious effort to provide a more accurate body count. In fact, it looks like they are reluctant to do this.
Zeyad is no disinterested observer. He has lived under the occupation and seen his country slide into chaos and served as a public health official during this time. He is now in the US studying journalism at Columbia Univerrsity and has this observation about his hosts:
I am realising that some Americans have a hard time accepting facts that fly against their political persuasions.
Billmon offers another perspective:
The moral of the story, I guess, is that you don't need to be an inhuman monster to cause an inhuman amount of death, destruction and suffering. You don't even need evil -- ignorance and arrogance and incompetence can manage the job quite nicely. But, as I've said before, it does require a rare combination of those qualities to take a situation like Saddam's Iraq and make it worse.
The numbers may be (and will be) debated, but at this point they strongly suggest that Shrub and company have managed to do just that -- or will, in the fullness of time.