In a new Associated Press article, the Iraqi health minister estimated the number of dead as 150,000:
Previous estimates of Iraq deaths held that 45,000-50,000 have been killed in the nearly 44-month-old conflict, according to partial figures from Iraqi institutions and media reports. No official count has ever been available.
Health Minister Ali al-Shemari gave his new estimate of 150,000 to reporters during a visit to Vienna, Austria. He later told The Associated Press that he based the figure on an estimate of 100 bodies per day brought to morgues and hospitals — though such a calculation would come out closer to 130,000 in total.
“It is an estimate,” al-Shemari said. He blamed Sunni insurgents, Wahhabis — Sunni religious extremists — and criminal gangs for the deaths.
Hassan Salem, of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, said the 150,000 figure included civilians, police and the bodies of people who were abducted, later found dead and collected at morgues run by the Health Ministry. SCIRI is Iraq’s largest Shiite political organization and holds the largest number of seats in parliament.
In October, the British medical journal The Lancet published a controversial study contending nearly 655,000 Iraqis have died because of the war — a far higher death toll than other estimates. The study, which was dismissed by President Bush and other U.S. officials as not credible, was based on interviews of households and not a body count.
Al-Shemari disputed that figure Thursday.
“Since three and a half years, since the change of the Saddam regime, some people say we have 600,000 are killed. This is an exaggerated number. I think 150 is OK,” he said.
Accurate figures on the number of people who have died in the Iraq conflict have long been the subject of debate. Police and hospitals often give widely conflicting figures of those killed in major bombings. In addition, death figures are reported through multiple channels by government agencies that function with varying efficiency.
I’d caution that this number is not necessarily better than any other Iraqi government figures. If, as I believe, and the 2006 Lancet Iraqi mortality study suggests, the systems collecting administrative data aren’t working and the government has no way of knowing how many have died. Notice Health Minister Ali al-Shemari says “I think 150 is OK.” The article also states:
“He later told The Associated Press that he based the figure on an estimate of 100 bodies per day brought to morgues and hospitals – though such a calculation would come out closer to 130,000 in total.”
Note, he did not say: “We’ve counted 150,000.” He’s just guessing here.
It does seem plausible, however, that this number is a lower limit, as the government has repeatedly low-balled estimates. Add in a likely 50,000+ nonviolent deaths and we have 200,000 excess deaths as a minimum number of war-related excess deaths. 200,000, 400,000, or 650,000 its enormous and horrifying.
I am always suspicious of single studies in the social sciences. Thus, while I value the Lancet study and believe it is of good quality, I don’t necessarily assume the 650,000 figure is correct. But “hundreds of thousands” seems highly likely.
November 10th, 2006