Study sees 655,000 Iraqi war deaths; Bush disputes

By Will Dunham
Reuters
October 11, 2006

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – About 655,000 Iraqis have died from the Iraq war, exceeding previous estimates, researchers said on Wednesday, but President George W. Bush called the findings not credible and a top U.S. commander put the toll at 50,000.

U.S. and Iraqi researchers used household interviews rather than body counts to gauge how many more Iraqis have died due to the 3 1/2-year-old war than died annually before it.

Deaths are occurring at more than three times the rate seen before the March 2003 invasion, said researcher Gilbert Burnham of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland. The study published in the medical journal The Lancet estimated prewar deaths at 143,000 a year.

Researchers estimated that as a result of the war, about 655,000 people in a country of about 27 million have died above the number expected to have died without war, Burnham said. That means 2.5 percent of the Iraqi population has died because of the invasion and ensuing strife, he said.

At a White House news conference Bush said, “I don’t consider it a credible report. Neither does General (George) Casey (top U.S. commander in Iraq) and neither do Iraqi officials.”

Casey, at a separate Pentagon briefing, said he had not seen the study but the 650,000 number “seems way, way beyond any number that I have seen. I’ve not seen a number higher than 50,000. And so I don’t give it that much credibility at all.”

Bush said, “I do know that a lot of innocent people have died, and that troubles me. And it grieves me.” But he called the study’s methodology “pretty well discredited.” Last December, Bush estimated 30,000 Iraqis had died in the war.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters, “The report is unbelievable. These numbers are exaggerated and not precise.” Iraqi government officials put the total Iraqi death toll since the war started at 40,000.

BOMBS AND GUNFIRE

Burnham defended the study’s methodology and described the difficulty of gathering data in wartime.

About 600,000 died from violence, most commonly gunfire but an increasing number from car bombs, Burnham said. But he said there also was a modest rise in deaths from non-violent causes such as heart disease, cancer and chronic illness.

Burnham said that “approximately 31 percent of households attributed the death of their household member to coalition forces.”

The findings were based on a survey by researchers from Johns Hopkins and Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad between May and June of 1,849 households, including 12,801 household members, in 47 randomly selected sites across Iraq.

Researchers questioned Iraqis about births, deaths and migrations. They said the same survey methods were used to measure mortality in other conflict areas such as the Congo, Kosovo and Sudan.

“Our total estimate is much higher than other mortality estimates because we used a population-based, active method for collecting mortality information rather than passive methods that depend on counting bodies or tabulated media reports of violent deaths,” Burnham said.

Other estimates based on think tank figures and media sources have yielded lower estimates. The Iraq Body Count Database says between 43,850 and 48,693 civilians have died since the invasion.

This survey followed another Johns Hopkins survey that showed nearly 100,000 more people than normal died in Iraq between March 2003 and September 2004.

While the study was published weeks before U.S. congressional elections, Burnham said it was not politically motivated.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Reaney in London) Posted by Bulatlat

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