John Leo
Isn't it awful, a friend said at dinner the other night, that 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the U.S. invasion? When I asked where the sta­tistic came from, he said maybe it was 8,000, but def­ initely somewhere between 8,000 and 100,000. That's a pretty broad spread, so I decided to do some checking.

The 100,000 estimate is from a survey of Iraqi households conducted last year by a team of scholars from Johns Hop­kins University and published in a British medical jour­nal, the Lancet. As luck would have it, the team was an­tiwar, and the study was released just before the presidential election. The study's coauthor called the 100,000 figure "a conservative estimate," the customary phrase attached to politically useful wild guesses. The study said, "We estimate there were 98,000 extra deaths (95% CI 8,000-194,000) during the postwar period."

Writing on Slate, Fred Kaplan translated that little tech­nical phrase between the parentheses: It means that the authors are 95 percent certain that war-caused deaths totaled somewhere between 8,000 and 194,000. Kaplan's conclusions: "The math is too vague to be useful."

Iraq Body Count and the Oxford Research Group, Britain-based antiwar organizations, released an analysis of Iraqi civilian fatalities last week, based on their collection of media reports ( It said 24,865 civilians had died in the first two years after the invasion, with U.S.-led forces accounting for 37 percent of the total, criminal violence 36 percent, and "antioccu­pation forces/insurgents" 9 per­cent. The Times of London dismissed the study as "an entirely arbitrary figure published by political agitators." But Michael O'Hanlon, who tracks statistics on Iraq at the Brookings Insti­tution, says the study "is proba­bly not far off, and it's certain­ly a more serious work than the Lancet report."

The modern numbers game of war dead began with the Gulf War. Greenpeace said 15,000 Iraqi civilians died. The Amer­ican Friends Service Commit­tee/Red Crescent claimed that 300,000 civilians died. Various media assessments hovered around 1,200. Later, Foreign Policy magazine put the civilian dead at 1,000. Unsurprisingly, the high estimates come from antiwar groups, often described in the media as neutral and nonpartisan. A New York Times article during the Afghan war ("Flaws in U.S. Air War Left Hundred of Civilians Dead") relied heavily on Global Ex­change, a hard-left, pro-Fidel Castro group blandly iden­tified by the Times as "an American organization that has sent survey teams into Afghan villages."

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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