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Study: Iraq Invasion Has Killed 100,000 Civilians

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We speak with the co-author of a new independent, peer-reviewed study that has concluded at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died because of the U.S invasion last year. [includes rush transcript]

A new independent, peer-reviewed study has concluded that at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died because of the U.S invasion last year.

The study entitled “Mortality Before And After The 2003 Invasion of Iraq: A Cluster Sample Survey” appears in Britain’s foremost medical journal “The Lancet” and was conducted by researchers at Columbia University, Johns Hopkins and Al-Mustansiriya in Baghdad.

The estimated number of deaths of 100,000 is considerably higher than previous estimates. The study found the rise in the death rate was mainly due to violence and much of it was caused by U.S. air strikes on towns and cities. Most of the victims were women and children.

The U.S. military claims it does not keep tallies on civilian casualties but the London Independent is reporting that the Pentagon does collect data on Iraqi casualties and is keeping the results classified. The U.S.-backed interim Iraqi government has also suppressed casualty figures. An official at the Iraqi Health Ministry who was compiling data from hospital records last year was ordered by a superior in December to stop.

  • Les Roberts, co-author of the study on civilian mortality in Iraq since the invasion. He is an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Les Roberts joins us, co-author of the study. He is an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Welcome to Democracy Now!

LES ROBERTS: Thank you very much. I am delighted to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Its good to have you with us. Explain the study. You were listening to Robert Fisk, your response?

LES ROBERTS: Sure. What we did was we got a breakdown of where people lived before the invasion: how many people were in Anbar province, how many people were in the city of Mosul and so on. At random, we picked 33 neighborhoods in the entire country, and essentially in a way that represented the pop lakes distribution on the first of — population distribution on the first of January, 2003. When we go to the little villages or city neighborhoods, we would pick a point at random. We draw a map and pick one point on it, and go to that point and visit the nearest 30 houses, and we would knock on the door and we say, hello. We’re from the university. We’d like to ask you a couple of questions. We said who lives here now? They gave us the age and gender of everyone. And then we said on the first of January, 2002, who lived here? Then we asked had anyone died or had anyone been born in the time in between? And my one authority of contradiction of what Mr. Fisk said is this wasn’t an opinion poll. On a sub-sample of the deaths at the end of the interview when the people didn’t know we were going to do this, we said, could you please show us the birth certificate, and four out of five times, the people could go back in their house and come back with the birth certificate. We’re quite sure people didn’t make up these deaths. These are something quite tangible. Lots of the people wept as they described the deaths. So, by going back to the beginning of 2002, we essentially knew the rate that people were dying at before the invasion. And we now know the rate after the invasion, and we compared the rates of death, and realized this is a nice advantage that every neighborhood is sort of being compared to itself. In this neighborhood, one person died in the 14 months before the invasion. In the same neighborhood, four people died in the 18 months after, therefore we know the mortality is higher in this neighborhood. We did it 33 times. Unfortunately, when we came to the end, one of the clusters, the city of Fallujah, was just radically different than everywhere else. And everywhere else the other 32 neighborhoods, violence, which was not a very important cause of death before the invasion, had become the main cause of death. But in Fallujah, essentially, we went to about 30 houses, and there were 52 violent deaths had occurred there. That’s probably 30 times higher, 20 times higher than we saw anywhere else. And now, that’s not quite true. Maybe ten times higher than we saw anywhere else. So, Fallujah was so different that we set it aside, so that 100,000 estimate that you heard was taking the 32 neighborhoods excluding Fallujah because it was so weird and so bad and saying, if these 32 neighborhoods represent the whole country of Iraq, and we worked very hard to take a sample that did, we believe approximately 100,000 people died. But, now, we do have that Fallujah information and we believe it to be true. Just in terms of statistics. We didn’t want to put it in and start extrapolating to the whole country. So, that’s why in our report, we said, we think that the numbers around 100,000, at least, but it could be much high person we say it could be higher because we excluded that Fallujah number. That’s how we came to our estimate as it appears now in the press.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Roberts, what about the timing of the release of this report? And the question about whether this is political?

LES ROBERTS: That’s unfortunate. I tried to do this last April. As you recall, a couple of people showed up on videos with their heads being cut off. My colleague out in Baghdad, a fellow named Riyadh Lafta, probably the bravest person I ever met, American, you cannot come here now. Don’t come. Then we postponed until June, and in June it was even worse. Then we postponed until July. Then August came around and starting last week, I have about six months’ worth of teaching obligations. So, I cannot travel. As we came to the end of august, it was either then or never, so I — we did it. Essentially over a three-week window in September. We finished the last house on September 20. I got out of the country about four days later. I scrambled and wrote up the results as fast as I could, and they were into the Lancet by the October 1. The lancet critiqued this quite, quite — heavily. They sent it out for multiple critiques from several different reviewers because they didn’t want to publish something that was going to be unfair to one side or another that’s with going to be bad science, and so it just took this long. I certainly wish that this had come out two weeks ago. I wish it had come out two weeks ago, because then both candidates would be forced to address the issue of casualties in Iraq, and would have been forced to pledge their eagerness to protect civilians in the future. So, I think the timing is unfortunate. I think that the fact that it came out before the election is probably a good thing for the Iraqi people. Don’t get me wrong. I wish it had come out a couple of weeks earlier, so that all the hoopla would be more about the number than the timing.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to — well, the report in the independent, the Pentagon collecting figures on local casualties in Iraq that they — the pentagon is contrary to its public claims, but the results are classified, according to your colleague, one of the authors of this report, professor Richard Garfield, who is an expert on the effects of conflict on civilians. He lectures at Columbia University here in New York. Also at London School of Hygiene and Public Health, saying that since 1991, when Colin Powell was head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the figures have been kept secret. He said the military is saying we don’t believe it, but because we don’t collect figures, we cannot comment. Mr. Powell decided to keep the figures secret because of the controversy over body counts in Vietnam, but I think democracies need this information. Any more information you have whether the Pentagon has the figures?

LES ROBERTS: I’m afraid I don’t have any information to that effect. I know Richard said, that and I cannot comment. In keeping with what Mr. Fisk just said, I went out and I had to sneak into the country, because Americans, I think, are seen so hostilely. I laid down in the back seat of a car and was smuggled in. I spent a couple days sort of arranging logistics and getting myself sorted out. For eight days I went out to the first of the many clusters, and trained our interviewers. Then after, that I hid in a hotel room, like some of the reporters out there now, keeping a low profile as a foreigner in Iraq is essential. So, I really cannot comment on what the coalition is doing in terms of keeping records or what the Iraqi government is doing in terms of keeping records except to say that the ministry of health, themselves, admit that their surveillance and monitoring of deaths is extremely incomplete.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us. We have been speaking with Les Roberts, the co-author of the study on civilian mortality in Iraq, since the invasion. He is an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The report has appeared in the British Medical journal, Lancet.

LES ROBERTS: My pleasure.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. This is Democracy Now!

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