As reported on the BBC - who were relaying '650,00 deaths' as fact on the World Service this morning. I know the World Service is funded by the Foreign Office, but I'd previously assumed it was our Foreign Office.
The survey suggests that most of the extra deaths - 601,000 - would have been the result of violence, mostly gunfire, and suggests that 31% could be attributable to action by US-led coalition forces.
'650,00 deaths' is greater than the German civilian losses after six years of Allied bombing in WW2, which heavily damaged most major German cities and included huge tolls in attacks like the Hamburg firestorm. I know a lot of people in Iraq are shooting each other, but are they really suggesting US forces have killed 200,000 ? And 400,000 deaths in what you could only call a civil war ?
These were the same people who gave us '100,000 deaths' last time out. Obviously not enough people took them seriously. What next - a million, two, five ?
The situation is not good though. Via Clive Davis, this Newsweek report is not at all encouraging. Fareed Zakaria suggests that the extra troops which most accept should have been there from the start may now be too late to make a difference. Responsibility for security has devolved down to the local level - local gangs and militias. A Lib-Dem paradise, in fact.
Iraq's problem is fundamentally political, not military. Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds need a deal that each can live with. Sen. Joseph Biden has outlined an intelligent power-sharing agreement, but what he, or for that matter George Bush, says doesn't matter. Power now rests with the locals. And the Shiites and the Sunnis have little trust in one another. At this point, neither believes that any deal would be honored once the United States left, which means that each is keeping its own militias as an insurance policy. If you were a Shiite, having suffered through a brutal insurgency and an incompetent government, would you give up your weapons ? If you were a Sunni, having watched government-allied death squads kill and ethnic-cleanse your people, would you accept a piece of paper that said that this government will now give you one third of Iraq's oil revenues if you disarm ?
I think the 600,000 might be more realistic if Uncle Sam pulled out. In some Muslim countries the solution might be a strict, Cromwellian, Islamic government (I told you I'm a Taleban fan) - but the Sunni/Shia divide makes the Somali/Afghan option a non-starter. The only thing I can see to do is to hang on in there - and send more troops. What Zakari calls 'limiting failure'.
The trouble is, reports like the Lancet's are designed to weaken commitment to Iraq. And the more signs the Sunnis and Shias see of weakening commitment, the more they'll be inclined to rely upon their own weapons. What happens here, in the West's media, matters. The BBC and Lancet are having their effect. And it's wholly malign.