A new study estimates that an astounding 655,000 Iraqis--more than 2 percent of the population--has died as a result of the war there.
The Bush Administration was quick to dismiss the study.
Not so fast.
A few months ago, the Bushies estimated the Iraqi war casualty toll at 30,000. We know that's a significant undercount because Bush lies about everything. We haven't seen anything that indicates how they arrived at that figure. We suspect they hired a Republican contractor who pulled the number out of thin air after billing the government a couple million to prepare the report. (Ok, call us cynical.)
In any event, the new study, overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins and funded by MIT's Center for International Studies, is based on a tried and true methodology. A team of Iraqi doctors visited 1849 randomly selected households and asked a household member about deaths within the family before and after the U.S. invasion began.
This methodology has been used throughout the world in other periods of crisis--war, famine, disease and disaster--to estimate lost lives, and it has long been validated scientifically as a reliable means of generating data.
What is particularly noteworthy about the Iraqi study is that in 87 percent of the households that reported one or more deaths, the researchers asked for a death certificate, and in 90 percent of those households the residents were able to produce a death certificate. That means the vast majority of reported deaths were verified, which is unusual for this type of study.
Let's just assume, however, for the sake of argument, that those households that didn't produce death certificates were making things up. That still amounts to roughly 513,000 deaths. (Do the math: 90 percent of 87 percent of 655,000).
Unless the households in which the interviews were conducted were not really random, or not representative of Iraq as a whole (unlikely if the study adhered to the most basic of epidemiological principles), then the survey clearly points to a far grimmer death toll among Iraqi civilians than previously painted.
Indeed, 655,000 deaths in a country the size of Iraq would equate to more than 7 million deaths in the U.S. (with a population roughly 11 times that of Iraq). It exceeds the military death toll in our own bloody civil war, at a time when our nation's population was just a tad larger than Iraq's today.
Put aside the politics for a second. The Hopkins study, based on a widely accepted methodology, raises some serious questions. The President, the Dept. of Defense, Congress, Democrats and the Iraqi government all need to know if things are really that out of control in Iraq. If they are, then the country is fully in civil war and our troops are accomplishing nothing at all other than, possibly making things worse. (Which is exactly what the general in charge of British troops in Iraq said today.)
It would be nice if we could, with a sense of urgency, get agreement on a nonpartisan group to try and replicate the Hopkins study with the backing of our government and that of Iraq. Sadly, it won't happen.