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Sunday, December 18, 2005

THE IRAQI DEATH TOLL: 140,000 

In response to a rare unscripted question, the president recently acknowledged the death of approximately 30,000 Iraqis as result of the war and occupation.

The general response of the media was to praise the president for his candid admission and to search for the source of his estimate. A consensus emerged that the source was the website Iraq Body Count. Few reports went beyond that revelation to examine the accuracy of the estimate.

As reported by the media-watch group FAIR, the Iraq Body Count provides an extremely conservative estimate of civilian deaths only. The count tallies only those deaths that are reported in the media.

As the reader may recall, the first action in the assault on Fallujah was to seize the local hospital. Hospitals had come under American criticism for releasing information regarding deaths and injuries. The Iraq Body Count, itself, acknowledges that their methodology is designed to provide a low baseline for civilian deaths and that “many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported in the media.” This is particularly true since the purge of independent media from Iraq, including Al Jazeera.

If we assume that the Iraq Body Count underestimates civilian deaths by half, the number rises to 60,000 but it remains limited to civilians. If we further assume that the casualty rate among non-civilians (security forces, military police and insurgents) is at least as high as civilian rates, we arrive at a number that fully confirms the much-criticized estimate of 100,000 deaths by the British medical journal Lancet (10/29/04).

In point of fact, the Lancet study remains the only objective attempt to quantify the Iraqi death toll. If we assume that the casualty rate has remained constant since the Lancet survey over a year ago, we arrive at a number approaching 140,000.

While the media may find fault with such a number, I submit it is eminently more reasonable than the president’s informal estimate.

What does that say for the president’s level of awareness or his compassion for the dead?

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