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Archive for October 2007

Getting the count right on dead Iraqis in the war

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Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Tue, 10/09/2007 – 2:23pm

Whether we learned to count from a teacher or the Count from Sesame Street, we generally know when a number is legitimate or crap. There are ongoing battles with the MSM on undercounting totals for war protests. People who participate in protests are dismayed when they read about the protest they are in, and find the quoted numbers aren’t even close to their own experience, and they were there.

One of my jobs here at BuzzFlash.com is updating the totals of dead and wounded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the Afternoon Alert. While it’s depressing to add more numbers of dead and injured soldiers, the work is necessary to make sure our readers have the latest numbers.

The counts for the U.S. soldiers haven’t really been in dispute. The 3,800+ dead and the over 28,000 injured from Iraq and the 400+ dead from Afghanistan reflect the reality.

The statistic that has been an issue almost from the start is the number of fatalities of Iraqi civilians. There is the infamous quote from General Tommy Franks, “We don’t do body counts.”

Sadly that is true. Oh, there is an “official count” of just over 81,000 Iraqi dead civilians in over 4 years of war, and that’s the high end of the range. But the count from justforeignpolicy.org is now over ONE MILLION more than the “official” count.

The task of counting Iraqi civilians is a dramatically difficult undertaking. This isn’t the easiest number to determine. However, having a difference of ONE MILLION is a little hard to believe.

How can the count be a million off?

Well, to say the official count is trying really hard is, well, not likely. Given the attacks by U.S. soldiers and, well, Blackwater, you can’t imagine that there have been on average less than 20,000 fatalities per year.

On the other hand, the count from justforeignpolicy.org is a best guess, but even their count is not completely accurate. There are a number of unaccounted refugees either in other parts of Iraq, in neighboring countries, and, of course, some are trying to get into the United States.

For a long time, the Iraq Body Count number was the only one we had, and yet, clearly a number of our readers were frustrated since the numbers didn’t seem to reflect reality by any stretch.

Then we had the Lancet medical journal estimate of 655,000 as of October 2006. At last, there was a number to associate that made more sense than the “official” count.

But as we went through the spring and early summer of 2007, that 655,000 number was growing frustrating to me, since the number never climbed. Then we discovered the ongoing number from justforeignpolicy.org. Finally, a count that seems to reflect what was going on and a number that kept climbing.

The count is important not only to make sure the reality is reflected, but also because the count is used to justify or not justify the war. I have read numerous accounts quoting the official numbers of the Iraqi dead (usually using the low end of the scale) and presenting it as “fact.”

The official count is just over 81,000. The unofficial, more likely count is over 1,083,000. However you count it, the death toll is still too high. But when this war finally ends, the history books are going to publish someone’s numbers. And I would rather those numbers be as close to accurate as possible, so future generations truly know what happened.

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Written by democracysoup

October 9, 2007 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized