Raising the dead

Issue section: 

According to an Associated Press poll in February, the average US citizen believes the Iraqi death toll to be just 9,890.

This is not necessarily surprising, when the mass corporate media routinely downplays the figure (ABC News, for example, regularly claims the figure stands at just 60,000).

Since General Tommy Franks announced that "we don't do body counts" the inability to prove the extent of deaths has been a useful tool for the occupying forces.

One of the first ways of getting a vague idea was to use the Iraq Body Count (IBC) website. At first this gave the anti-war movement the only data to illustrate the devastation of Iraq, and was often refuted by the pro-war camp. But as it only counted deaths confirmed by the media, this gave a far lower result than the actual total. In time it appeared that George Bush, Jack Straw and the mainstream media relied increasingly on IBC, not least because other institutions had done separate studies giving far higher results.

In October 2006 the Lancet medical journal released an estimate of 650,000 dead in Iraq. This was condemned by Downing Street as unscientific, although subsequent Freedom of Information requests revealed that the study employed techniques also used by government to measure deaths in other conflicts. The government had lied once again.

The latest figure comes from Opinion Research Business (ORB) and makes for shocking reading. According to ORB some 1,220,580 Iraqis have died since the 2003 invasion, based on interviews with 1,499 Iraqis.

This is a higher result than even the 800,000 killed in the Rwandan genocide, and amounts to around one in 26 Iraqis.

Those carrying out the survey asked households how many members of the household, if any, had died as a result of the invasion. The highest proportion was in Baghdad, where around half the households had lost a member since 2003.

Otherwise of interest was the way in which they had been killed: 48 percent had been shot dead, with 20 percent dying from car bombs and 9 percent from aerial bombardment. The way the war is portrayed in the media focuses on single events resulting in mass casualties, such as car bombs and, to a lesser extent, aerial bombardment.

The survey also notes that of the millions who have fled their homes 52 percent are still inside Iraq, but the remaining 48 percent have migrated, largely to Syria.

As much of Iraq is too volatile for those conducting the poll to enter, coupled with areas in which the polling organisation was not allowed due to local authority restrictions, ORB stress that these findings can only be seen as estimates. They are, however, completing further research, the results of which should be due by mid-October.