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[casi-analysis] New briefing on the FCO response to the Lancet Iraq Mortality Survey

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For the full briefing, see




On 17 November 2004, the UK Foreign Secretary produced a written
ministerial statement in response to the article ‘Mortality before and
after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey’ published in the
Lancet on 29 October 2004. The ministerial statement dismissed the
mortality estimates produced by the Lancet survey. This briefing argues
that this dismissal is largely unjustified, and in parts disingenuous.

1) The UK Government rejects the Lancet study's figures outright, arguing
that the Iraqi Ministry of Health (MOH) figure of 3,853 dead civilians
received in Iraqi hospitals (between 5 April 2004 and 5 October 2004) is
far more accurate. This argument is untenable because:

(a) MOH officials have themselves stated that their figures are necessarily
an undercount.

(b) The MOH figures and the Lancet study are fundamentally attempting to
measure different things. The MOH figures attempt to record deaths from
violence within the period from April to September 2004. The Lancet study
attempts to measure the mortality, from all causes, before and after the
invasion in March 2003. While the Lancet study nonetheless found that the
largest cause of death was violence, and that the majority of that violence
appeared to have been caused by Coalition forces, it also found a rise in
non-violent (especially infant) mortality attributable to various
deteriorating public health indicators in Iraq since the invasion.

(c) The Government criticises the Lancet study as failing to distinguish
adequately between deaths caused by ‘terrorists’ and by ‘Coalition forces’,
and between the deaths of civilians and anti-Coalition fighters. According
to the Iraqi Minister of Health, the MOH figure aggregates these categories
in precisely the same way.

2) The Government misrepresents the Lancet study's findings and
methodology, taking a standard methodological procedure and claiming that
it represents an overwhelming caveat about the study's precision. Quoting
the Lancet study's '95% confidence interval' of 8,000-194,000 deaths, the
Government argues both that the median figure of 98,000 extra deaths is
thus imprecise, and that any figure within this interval is consistent with
the data. This is misleading: given the data, the real figure is far more
likely to fall around the median value of 98,000 than at the edges of this
distribution. Moreover, since cluster surveys of this sort are likely to
under-count rather than to over-count mortality, and that one cluster of
extremely high mortality (Fallujah) was actually excluded from the study,
the real figure is likely to fall towards the upper rather than the lower
end of this confidence interval.

3) The Government rejects all Coalition responsibility for civilian deaths
caused since May 2003. This is contrary to widespread evidence (detailed
below) of military action which has failed to discriminate between
civilians and combatants, and may even constitute breaches of international
humanitarian law. The Government further claims that the Lancet study found
that there was little wrongdoing by Coalition forces 'on the ground', while
neglecting to mention the study's key finding that Coalition action off the
ground, in airstrikes, was failing to discriminate between civilians and
combatants: 52% of deaths attributed to coalition forces by the study’s
informants were of women and children.

4) Despite arguing elsewhere that reliable statistics are essential in
order to determine reconstruction policy in Iraq, the Government rejects
the need to keep count of civilian casualties caused by Coalition forces.
The Government also ignores the Lancet study's demonstration that, with
limited resources, meaningful indicators of mortality in Iraq can be
established, falsifying their claims that Coalition or Iraqi resources
cannot establish such measures of the Iraqi population's well-being.


For the full briefing, see

This forms part of an extensive new website of briefings and information
resources put together by former members of the Campaign Against Sanctions
on Iraq:

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