May I return to the claim made by Andrew Marr yesterday – and presented without qualification – that 600,000 Iraqis died in the Iraq war?
I did not push back at the time, because he added that these were UN figures. And given I had only just recovered from the moment of exasperation I described here yesterday, I did not want to get involved in a tit for tat row about statistics. Everyone knows a lot of civilians died.
But having looked at the issue this morning, I really think Marr has to explain that claim.
It appears to have come from a Lancet survey whose findings have been comprehensively rejected. There is certainly no evidence anywhere that I can find that would allow anyone to present these as somehow UN backed figures.
Casualty figures are inevitably controversial and also given the nature and length of the conflict difficult to assess.But both supporters and opponents of the conflict seem to view the so-called Iraq Body Count figures as likely to be the most reliable. They put the figure at 103722. That is a lot of people and a lot of devastated families. The Brookings Institute puts it higher, at 111,600. Others go higher still. But all are a long way short of Marr’s casually tossed out figure.
The International Red Cross stated ‘perhaps the best that the public can be given is exactly what IBC provides – a running tally of deaths derived from knowledge, supplemented by the weath of data of the Iraq Living Conditions Survey and Iraq Family Health Survey (which have their own limitations) provides enough information in the light of the circumstances. At a later date, additional surveys can be conducted to determine the impact and-or do demographic analysis. But for now, the Iraq Body Count’s imperfect figures combined with the data of the ILCS and IFHS may suffice.’
In other words, we cannot be sure but this seems as good an assessment as can be made.
The Iraq Body Count also shows that from 2005 to 2009 the vast bulk of deaths were caused by the insurgency. 4650 are attributed to coalition forces. More were killed by Al Qaida suicide bombs than coalition forces.
Marr is surely as aware of that report as the one he chose to use. So who is sexing up a case now? And would such a claim stand up to the kind of questioning and analysis our presentation on Iraq has endured in successive public and parliamentary inquiries? Indeed, if he is as interested in answers as questions, he might wonder … how long would he last in front of an inquiry seeking to examine his use of the information, and the totally false claim that this was a UN figure?
I guess another of the reasons I got angry yesterday is constantly being questioned by media people, many of whom would not stand up for more than a few minutes to the level of scrutiny people in politics have to live with 24-7.
Whilst I was looking through the facts and figures on this I also came across another figure that merits more attention than it gets.
In 2003 child mortality rates in Iraq were, at 130 per 1,000, higher than Congo, not least because Saddam diverted money for medicines to weapons.
In 2007 it was down to 44 per 1,000. That suggests that as many as 50,000 more children live every year as a result of the new freedoms Iraqis enjoy. Perhaps someone on the media might cover that one day.
As I said yesterday, I can at least see there are always two sides to an argument. But the honest debate people in the media claim they want would be helped if a few of these facts were sometimes allowed to get in the way of the story they want to tell, and the scores they want to settle over the fact that when one of those inquiries put one BBC story under real scrutiny, it was they not the government who were found wanting.
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