A new study estimates that as many as 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S.-led invasion in March of 2003 and that roughly ninety percent of the deaths were directly related to violence, primarily victims of gunfire.
"A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred," David Brown reports for the Washington Post in Wednesday's edition.
The Post notes that this figure, "produced by interviewing residents during a random sampling of households throughout the country, is far higher than ones produced by other groups, including Iraq's government."
"It is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech in December," Brown writes. "It is more than 10 times the estimate of roughly 50,000 civilian deaths made by the British-based Iraq Body Count research group.
Wednesday's Wall Street Journal reports that the "findings are sure to draw fire from skeptics and could color the debate over the war ahead of congressional elections next month."
The survey, largely financed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was undertaken by Iraqi physicians who interviewed 12,801 residents from late May to early July and overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The findings will be published online Wednesday by the British medical journal The Lancet.
The survey is an update to a prior study compiled by the same group, and many of the same researchers, which estimated that around 100,000 more Iraqis had died in the first 18 months after the invasion than would have died otherwise. Aside from the size of the estimate, which was much higher than other estimates, that study also drew criticism due to its timing – weeks before the US presidential election in November of 2004 – which one of the lead researchers admitted was deliberate.
"They're almost certainly way too high," Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington tells the Associated Press about the latest study.
The AP reported that Cordesman "criticized the way the estimate was derived and noted that the results were released shortly before the Nov. 7 election."
"This is not analysis, this is politics," Cordesman said.
A military spokesman, Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, wouldn't comment directly on the study, according to the published reports, but said that the Defense Department "always regrets the loss of any innocent life in Iraq or anywhere else," adding that the "coalition takes enormous precautions to prevent civilian deaths and injuries."
"He added that 'it would be difficult for the U.S. to precisely determine the number of civilian deaths in Iraq as a result of insurgent activity," the Post reported. "The Iraqi Ministry of Health would be in a better position, with all of its records, to provide more accurate information on deaths in Iraq."
The New York Times produced the following graphic to accompany their own report:
The following video, compiled by David Edwards, contains clips from NBC's Today Show and CNN's American Morning.