By Elham Asaad Buaras
12 people including three children were killed from a bomb blast outside mosque in northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Eid (October 15). The attack took the number of people killed so far this month to 520, according to Iraq Body Count.
The Eid bombings occurred on the same day a report by the US-based PLOS Medicine journal estimated that nearly half a million people died from causes that could be associated with the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2003 to 2011.
Despite the escalating sectarian and militia violence, the report concluded that the “US-led coalition forces were reported to be responsible for the largest proportion of war-related violent deaths (35%), followed by militia (32%). While militia were reportedly responsible for the most adult male deaths in the sibling survey, coalition forces were reportedly responsible for killing the most women.”
The researchers estimated that 60 percent of the deaths were violent, with the remaining 40 percent occurring because of health-infrastructure issues that arose as a result of the invasion – a point they emphasized when discussing their research, since the figure is higher than those found in previous studies.
The study concluded with “95 percent certainty” that there were approximately 461,000 excess deaths during the Iraqi war, but the actual number could be as low as 48,000 or as high as 751,000.
The authors of the study detail a more rigorous methodology than has ever been employed for previous Iraq war mortality estimates
The study, done by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and University of Washington in the US, Simon Fraser University, Canada, as well as Mustansiriya University in Iraq, concluded that, “Most mortality increases in Iraq can be attributed to direct violence, but about a third are attributable to indirect causes (such as from failures of health, sanitation, transportation, communication, and other systems). Approximately a half million deaths in Iraq could be attributable to the war.”
For the first population-based survey research since 2006, researchers went to 2,000 randomly selected households in 100 geographic clusters across Iraq and asked if family members had died, when and why.
Researchers used the survey data, which was completed by 1,960 of those chosen, to calculate the death rate before the war and after. When multiplied by the whole population, they returned a number that represented “excess deaths.”
Researchers estimated there were 405,000 excess Iraqi deaths attributable to the war through mid-2011.
They also attempted to account for deaths missed because families had fled the country, and estimated 55,805 total deaths, bringing the total to nearly 461,000.
Based on household survey responses, gunshots were reported to cause 62 percent of violent deaths; car bombs, 12 percent; and other explosions, 9 percent. Cardiovascular conditions were the main cause of nonviolent death, accounting for 47 percent of nonviolent deaths over the entire study period.
They also found that deaths increased to twice as much as the expected levels at the onset of the war, plateaued briefly at the end of 2003, and that they rose again to a new peak in 2006. Thereafter, deaths dropped until 2008, when the number of deaths started to level off, and then rose again slightly in 2011.
The researchers said they adjusted the results to account for the migration of an estimated 2 million Iraqis out of the country during the war.
In a viewpoint article accompanying the study, Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre at Imperial College London, Salman Rawaf, wrote that “This estimate carries substantial uncertainty, and undoubtedly the methodology and findings of this latest study will be controversial and debated.”
However, the attempt to quantify the catastrophe created by war is “valuable” in the context of understanding the health consequences of war, he said.
“Living in Iraq today is no longer about how many have died, but how future deaths should be prevented.”
PLOS Medicine fatality tally is significantly lower than the Lancet study figure of 654,965 excess deaths (through the end of June 2006) which too based its study on household survey data.