Deaths In Iraq Have Reached 1 Million

by Alan Jones

Grim claim on fourth anniversary of conflict
ABC (Under)counting Iraqi Dead

ABC News is marking the anniversary of the start of the Iraq War this 
week by reporting on its major survey of Iraqi public opinion. But 
when it comes to one fundamental tally of the cost of the war—the 
number of Iraqis who have been killed by the war—top ABC anchors are 
minimizing the death toll.

On the Sunday morning show This Week (3/18/07), George Stephanopoulos 
reported: "More than 3,200 U.S. military dead. At least 24,000 
wounded. About 60,000 Iraqis killed." The next day on Good Morning 
America, his ABC colleague Diane Sawyer mentioned almost the same 
figures: "3,218 U.S. military fatalities and 24,042 U.S. wounded, not 
to mention the some 60,000 Iraqis who have been killed."

No source was given for the 60,000 figure by either anchor. The 
figure resembles the totals for Iraqi civilian deaths reported in 
English-language news reports by the Iraqi Body Count (IBC) project: 
between 59,326 and 65,160. (George W. Bush also appeared to rely on 
IBC's figures when asked in December 2005 how many Iraqis had been 
killed in the war; he gave the number of 30,000, which was close to 
IBC's tally at the time.)

Using IBC's count as an estimate of how many Iraqis have died in the 
war is sloppy reporting, however. For one thing, it is explicitly a 
count of civilian deaths, ignoring Iraqi combatants who died either 
resisting the U.S. invasion and occupation or defending the U.S.-
backed government. Estimates for the number of Iraqi combatants 
killed in the initial invasion range from 7,600-10,800 (Project on 
Defense Alternatives, 10/20/03) to 13,500-45,000 (London Guardian, 
5/28/03); the total of Iraqis killed fighting the U.S. has surely 
increased substantially in the four years that followed.

As for Iraqi forces allied with the U.S., the Iraq Coalition Casualty 
Count website has counted 6,301 deaths of Iraqi police and military, 
based on news reports, up to March 20, 2007. It's striking that even 
these allied deaths—nearly twice the number of U.S. forces killed—are 
often ignored in U.S. press accounts.

Any total based on official recordkeeping or news reports is almost 
certainly going to be incomplete—particularly in a country like Iraq, 
where reporters' well-grounded fear of being attacked by either side 
results in them seldom venturing out of Baghdad (or into most 
neighborhoods in Baghdad, for that matter). As IBC itself notes on 
its website, "It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties 
will go unreported."

In countries with functioning governmental institutions, reporters 
can rely on official censuses or health records. In Iraq, however, a 
proposed census was vetoed by the U.S. occupation government (Extra!, 
3­4/04), and at this point it would probably be too dangerous to 
conduct one. And the Iraqi Ministry of Health, which maintains 
morgues and issues death certificates, has close ties to Shiite death 
squads, according to the U.S. military, making it a questionable 
source for casualty statistics (Extra! Update, 2/07). For what it's 
worth, the United Nations reviewed government records and death 
certificates and reported a civilian death toll of 34,000 for 2006 
alone (New York Times, 1/17/07). And Iraqi Health Minister Ali al-
Shamari estimated in November 2006 that 100,000 to 150,000 Iraqis had 
been killed by violent acts since early 2004.

The standard way to estimate death tolls in war-torn areas is to use 
epidemiological surveys based on a random sampling of the population. 
The United Nations made one such survey in 2004, estimating 24,000 
war-related deaths in roughly the first year of the conflict. Using 
that as a minimum annual figure—since it's recognized that violence 
has greatly intensified since the first year of the occupation—
produces roughly 100,000 as a conservative estimate of Iraqi deaths. 
A comprehensive demographic survey by Johns Hopkins University 
published in the medical journal Lancet (10/21/06) arrived at a much 
higher death toll for the Iraq War: between 400,000 and 900,000 
"excess" deaths by violence in Iraq-civilians and combatants-since 
the beginning of the U.S. invasion, with 600,000 being the mostly 
likely statistical estimate.

Given the difficulties inherent in gathering precise data on Iraqi 
deaths, journalists should cite a plausible range of casualty 
estimates, rather than using the lowest estimate available—as Sawyer 
and Stephanopoulos have done.

In February, the Associated Press released a poll that found that 
while the U.S. public knows the death toll for U.S. servicemembers in 
Iraq, the median estimate for Iraqi deaths was 9,890. The findings 
are a damning indictment of the corporate media's reporting on Iraq. 
Journalists like Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos don't make 
things any better by severely low-balling the number of Iraqis who 
have died as a result of the war.

ACTION: Encourage ABC to use more accurate estimates of Iraqi deaths 
when reporting on the issue. Ask them to explain how they arrived at 
their 60,000 figure.