In a new study which provides an estimate for the total number of deaths since the US-led war in Iraq began, scientists say up to one half million Iraqis may have perished because of the conflict.
A team of Iraqi and American researchers conducted the study, which was led by Amy Hagopian of the University of Washington.
The researchers formed their estimate by surveying 2,000 Iraqi households. The results of the survey were used to estimate deaths that occurred in the two-year period before the war began in March 2003, as well as in the years that followed, up until the middle of 2011.
Creating estimates from limited data, the study authors say, is fraught with difficulties and previous estimates have varied widely in their results. In addition, these studies have been quite controversial, with many scientists criticizing the methods used. Hagopian’s study was an attempt to correct some of these methodological flaws and provide more up-to-date data.
To come up a new estimate, Hagopian’s team first looked at the number of deaths which had occurred in the two years prior to the war to get a baseline figure for how many people were dying annually prior to the war and subsequent occupation of the country. They then calculated that the wartime crude death rate was more than 50% higher than those two prior years.
Based upon these figures, they were able to estimate that the total number of excess deaths – those which were above and beyond what one would expect during peacetime – was about 405,000. They further estimated that there were probably another 56,000 who died, but were not counted because they had moved out of the area. When these numbers were added to the total, it gave a number closer to one half million This figure included all deaths from the start of the Iraq War until mid-2011.
Hagopian does note, however, that because it is very difficult to create an accurate estimate based upon such a small sample, the true figure could be somewhere between 48,000 and 751,000.
Hagopian’s team also calculated that the risk for a man to die at the peak of the war in the year 2006 was about triple what it was before the war. In addition, the death rate for women increased by about 70 percent.
In cataloging the causes of death, they team found that:
- Among violent deaths, 35 percent were caused by coalition forces, while 32 percent could be attributed to militia members.
- Sixty-three percent of all violent deaths were due to gunshot wounds.
- Twelve percent of all violent deaths were due to car bombs.
In a separate article, Salman Rawaf, who is affiliated with The WHO Collaborating Centre at Imperial College in London, commented that war-related deaths peaked in the year 2006 because of infrastructural damage that had been done to Iraq’s health and safety systems. He argued that death counts are no longer quite so important and that emphasis should be placed on learning how to prevent future deaths as the country struggles to cope with ongoing conflict.
Hagopian says, however, that funding this type of research is important to public health because it allows scientists to create better methods for assessing the health effects of future wars.
The article, as well as Rawaf’s commentary, appears in the medical journal PLOS Medicine. The study results were released to the public on October 15, 2013.
Written by: Nancy Schimelpfening