Thursday, October 12, 2006

Lancet - "Everyone Dead In Iraq"

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.


JuliaM said...

"The Johns Hopkins researchers argue their "cluster sample" approach is more reliable than counting dead bodies, given the obstacles preventing more comprehensive fieldwork in the violent and insecure conditions of Iraq."

Seems reasonable on the face of it. War zones are hell, infrastructure breaks down, etc. On the other hand:

"The researchers say that in nearly 80% of the individual cases, family members produced death certificates to support their answers."

So the coroner system in Iraq is working almost perfectly, despite the war?

Bit of a dichotomy there, if these death certificates are, erm, 'kosher'.... And if they are, why not produce copies to back up your guesswork?

Sorry, I meant 'research'....

Anonymous said...

Laban - your objection to the Lancet figures seems to be that they are higher than you think they should be. Do you have any criticism of the methodology? John Hopkins University is hardly a tin-pot institution, and the Economist, again hardly the Socialist Workers Party, gave the methodology of the 100,000-death report a few years back a pretty clean bill of health. Your argument seems to be that 'I disagree with these figures because they are not in line with my own point of view, therefore they must be wrong'.

Voyager said...

Read the article on this URL which goes through methodology and error

Voyager said...

John Hopkins University is hardly a tin-pot institution

John Hopkins did NOT do the research but paid the guys who did the Lancet research to do it and publish under a different label

Anonymous said...

The number does seem a bit high.

Germany was bombed night and day week in week out for years on end. Raids which it was intended would damage civilian areas and kill people.

In Iraq we are talking about much less intensity, in many areas nothing is happening at all.

Also the report lets the implication float that these deaths are all civilians, many of those killed are combatants of various stripes.

Voyager said...

2004 The survey was sponsored by the Center for International Emergency Disaster and Refugee Studies, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA (authors L Roberts PhD, G Burnham MD) and the Department of Community Medicine, College of Medicine, Al-Mustansiriya University, Baghdad, Iraq.

2006 A second study by some of the same authors was published in October, 2006, in The Lancet [27]. The revised study showed a marked increase in the estimated violent death rate in Iraq during the intervening period between the first and second studies. Of 629 deaths verified and recorded among a sample of 1,850 families incorporating some 12,800 people, 13% took place in the 14 months before the invasion and 87% in the 40 months afterwards.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the Wikipedia article states:

Lila Guterman, writing for The Columbia Journalism Review interviewed about ten biostatisticians and mortality experts regarding their views on the study. She wrote that "not one of them took issue with the study’s methods or its conclusions."

Voyager said...

I called about ten biostatisticians and mortality experts. Not one of them took issue with the study’s methods or its conclusions. If anything, the scientists told me, the authors had been cautious in their estimates. With a quick call to a statistician, reporters would have found that the probability forms a bell curve — the likelihood is very small that the number of deaths fell at either extreme of the range. It was very likely to fall near the middle.

She does not understand Statistics.

The Confidence Level is improved because of a small sample size because there is no way of knowing that the areas sampled as clusters are statistically representative. The data pool itself may not be suitable for the conclusions drawn

I suggest you refer to:

Sheila M Bird, MRC Biostatistics Unit, Cambridge CB2 2SR, UK, chair of the Royal Statistical Society's Working Party on Performance Monitoring in the Public Services.

Stephen Apfelroth, Department of Pathology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) is an American magazine for professional journalists published bimonthly by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism since 1961.

Its contents include news and media industry trends, analysis, professional ethics and stories behind news.

The chairman of the magazine is renowned left-wing intellectual Victor Navasky

paul ilc said...

Responsibility for security has devolved down to the local level - local gangs and militias. A Lib-Dem paradise, in fact.

Perfect, Laban. Beautifully put! I wish I had written that; and I will (elsewhere with h/t).

Dangerouslysubversivedad said...

Anyone with half a brain and no agenda knows instinctively this is utter, utter bullshit. And frankly, fuck the rest.

Squander Two said...

> The Johns Hopkins researchers argue their "cluster sample" approach is more reliable than counting dead bodies

Yes, because they're statisticians. I explained what I think is wrong with this approach here.

After writing that, I discovered that the US did set up a compensation scheme whereby the families of unintended victims could claim cash money from the Americans. Amazing (though not necessarily bad) that such a thing could happen in a modern war zone. But I never understand why it's not mentioned in the context of these studies that Iraqis have a financial incentive to claim -- truly or falsely -- that their relatives have been killed.