Ramsey on Iraq

What do you do when the SMH doesn’t publish your letter? Put it on your blog, of course.

The question of how many civilian deaths have occurred in Iraq is too important to be treated with the sloppiness Alan Ramsey displayed in his Saturday column. When discussing a 2004 report in the Lancet, Ramsey makes two basic errors. First, he says the study concluded that "a minimum 98,000 civilians had died in the violence" – in fact the study’s confidence interval ranged from 8,000 to 194,000. Second, he describes the study as referring to civilian deaths only. This is wrong – the Lancet researchers made no attempt to distinguish insurgent and civilian deaths. By contrast, the Iraq Body Count, which relies on media, Iraqi officials, hospital and morgue records, currently estimates a civilian death toll between 16,036 and 18,305.

Any of the above death tolls are horrific, but they do not in themselves tell us whether the war was worth it. Another Lancet report in 2000 found that infant and child mortality rates in Iraq doubled during the 1990s. A UNICEF report found that sanctions were responsible for the deaths of 5000 Iraqi children per month. Weighing the human toll of a sanctions-contained Saddam regime against the deaths caused by war, one might still conclude that the intervention was a bad idea. But at least we would be looking at the right facts.

18 February 2004

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