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John Rentoul

John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.

"The Independent's must-read man" - Daniel Finkelstein

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Lancet figures for Iraq deaths discredited

Posted by John Rentoul
  • Thursday, 5 February 2009 at 12:21 pm
I have provoked the usual suspects by repeating my view that the invasion of Iraq was justified, and pointing to the increasing evidence that the country is finally set on a hopeful path.

It comes as no surprise that the Pilgerite and Media Lens fringe should respond to any attempt to engage in a serious discussion about the death tolls of the invasion, the insurgency and the collapse of civil order by simply repeating any large number, preferably over 1 million, that has been suggested before, regardless of its source.

These people are in a moral universe that is impervious to evidence, and are on a trajectory that could lead to this kind of sickness: "8.6 million Iraqi civilians murdered by the Anglo-American Holocaust."

What worries me is the leakage of unjustifiably large numbers into mainstream discussion of the Iraq invasion. I mentioned Matthew Norman's column in The Independent on this blog in December, but I also noticed Kevin Maguire, a fine journalist, in The Mirror yesterday

The Iraqi victims - 600,000? A million? 1.2 million? - are no bar to him [Tony Blair] as a Middle East peace envoy.
With fortuitous timing, the American Association for Public Opinion Research has responded to a complaint about the research study published in The Lancet, the medical research journal, which produced the highest figure that has any kind of credibility, the 601,000 "excess deaths" figure in 2006 (not 655,000 as is widely reported - that includes deaths from illness).

Anyone who has looked closely at the Lancet research should know by now that there are serious doubts about its methodology. My view, and I discussed it and other evidence here and here, is that it is astonishing that it survived the process of peer review.

Now the AAPOR has criticised one of the authors of the study for failing to provide "basic facts" about the research that would allow it to be independently verified.

Of course, the death toll in Iraq has been too high. The Iraq Body Count cumulative total since the invasion is now just under 100,000. That is likely to be an under-estimate, but the highest figure from a credible and independently verifiable source is the World Health Organisation survey, also in 2006, that estimated (with a 95 per cent probability) between 104,000 and 223,000, but which again used the cluster sample method. (There is a good summary of the different approaches published by the International Committee of the Red Cross here - pdf.)

But to exaggerate it by a factor of 10 or more does nothing to advance the anti-war cause.


Body count
zansal wrote:
Thursday, 5 February 2009 at 06:42 pm (UTC)
I don't accept the numbers listed on the anti-Zionist blog site either. However, I'm wondering why you didn't say "since 1950".

The Iraq war is not retrospectively justified in anyway by the "civilian surge". Regime change and democracy were not used as goals and objectives of the Anglo-American invasion. So they can hardly be used as justification.

And what's this idea of people not in agreement with your political views being regarded as "suspects"? LOL

We might have a democratic Iraq, but next door, as a direct result of the Iraq invasion, we have Iran now hell bent on getting it's hands on nuclear weapons.

Iran understands the single major lesson of the Iraq invasion (and the non-invasion of North Korea) - you get invaded not because you have WMD but because you do not have them.

America's power and influence in the Middle East has all but disappeared since the Iraq invasion. Israel does not listen. Syria is not listening. Iran isn't listening and is filling the power gap left by the US.

Iraq, if you like, was a "battle" in a long-term war for geo-political power in the Middle-East. America might win that battle - but it is almost certain Pyrrhic : one more victorious invasion with democracy sprouting up as an after-thought and America will be truly undone! (this is Afghanistan BTW).

daniel_davies wrote:
Monday, 9 February 2009 at 12:33 pm (UTC)
((not 655,000 as is widely reported - that includes deaths from illness)

I'm sorry; are people who die from disease, malnutrition, etc, in some way not dead? Would you discount the victims of the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe in this manner?

One should also note that surveys carried out in 2006 do not, rather obviously, include deaths in 2007, which was by far the worst year in Iraq for deaths by violence.


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