A sick media

The US response to Lancet study on Iraq

Published: Wednesday 15 November 2006

-- in 2004, the British medical journal Lancet published a study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University of Nursing, usa and Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, Iraq. More than a hundred thousand Iraqis had died due to war-related causes in the year following the invasion of their country by us-led troops, the article surmised. Caught in the tumult of a contentious presidential election -- in which the Iraqi war figured prominently -- the us media gave the study a go-by. A few did take note, but the references were buried far from the top headlines.

There were some who criticised the report for its reliance on a "limited cross section" of 33 neighbourhoods. The sample surveyed was appropriate, others claimed.Anyhow, the research team has revisited Iraq, and has expanded the scope of its study 47 neighbourhoods. The death toll from the invasion now stands at 655,000, an astonishing 2.5 per cent of the Iraqi population. The figure was again not enough to rouse the American media. Many ignored it, some consigned it to the back pages and a few dismissed it. George Bush did take note though. "The report lacks credibility," he said. Of course he did demur "The war has claimed many innocents."

In questioning the Lancet methodology, Bush and his acolytes overlooked a few basic facts. The Lancet study used the same methodology that was used to measure morbidity in Darfur and Congo. The us administration uncritically accepted these surveys. It has at other times accepted estimates by Les Roberts, one of the key authors of the Lancet study. The us government spends millions of dollars every year to train ngos and un officials to do cluster surveys -- the same methodology adopted by the Lancet study -- to measure mortality in times of wars and disasters.

More importantly, the us media overlooked what the Lancet study exactly measures morbidity in excess of statistically-expected levels prior to the invasion. That means Iraqis who die from terrorism, from internal violence, from fighting coalition troops, from disease, malnutrition, and lack of access to medical aid. The Lancet study concludes that us and its allies directly caused at least 31 per cent -- or 186,000 -- of the violent deaths. Wasn't the us-led invasion meant to liberate Iraqis from a tyrannical regime?


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