mass-deaths.jpg(New Scientist) Around 655,000 people have died in Iraq as a result of the US-led coalition invasion, according to the largest scientific analysis yet. That is 2.5% of the country’s entire population. The study was conducted by US and Iraqi scientists to determine how many Iraqis have died since the invasion in March 2003. Various estimates have been made of Iraqi casualties, ranging from 48,000 to 126,000. But these have been based on reporting by the press, hospitals or the military, and tend to underestimate the dead, the researchers claim.

Mystech: In keeping with his public declaration to edit reports and intelligence in the interest of supporting the War of Terror, Bush and his Administration have officially dismissed the findings. By comparison an estimated 100,000 people (mostly Khurds) were killed under Saddam Hussein’s regime and another 500,000 in Iraq’s war with Iran.

Gilbert Burnham and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, US, and Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, Iraq, surveyed 1849 households with a total of 12,801 inhabitants, in all but two of the 18 governorates across Iraq. The researchers asked about births, deaths and cause of death. They did not discriminate between civilian and combatants.

The death rate before the invasion was a fairly normal 5.5 per thousand people per year. Since March 2003, that figure has averaged 13.2, the researchers found. More worrying, the death rate has risen every year since the invasion: this year reaching 19.8 per thousand people per year, a near-fourfold increase over pre-invasion levels.

Facts and figures

Critics commenting on the study say the number of deaths in the families interviewed – 82 reported before the invasion, 547 afterwards – was too few to extrapolate to the whole country. But the researchers insist they have made statistical compensations for their sample size to pre-empt these criticisms.

They estimate that there were at least 392,976 excess deaths – those that would not have occurred, has there been no war – in Iraq since 2003, and possibly as many as 942,636. The research confirmed the results of the same group’s 2004 study.

Of the deaths reported by the study population since 2003:

• 92% were from violent causes, more than half from gunshots.

• Only about a third of violent deaths were attributed to actions by coalition forces.

• The percentage of violent deaths attributed to coalition action has fallen, though the absolute number of deaths per year from that cause has climbed.

• Men and boys aged between 15 and 44 accounted for 59% of violent deaths, despite making up just 24% of the population.

• Despite disruptions in sanitation and health care, death from non-violent causes do not appear to have climbed significantly.

“An independent international body to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and other humanitarian standards in conflict is urgently needed,” the researchers say. “With reliable data, those voices that speak out for civilians trapped in conflict might be able to lessen the tragic human cost of future wars.”