Toward a real count of Iraqi casualties

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January 17, 2008

JEFF JACOBY'S Jan. 13 op-ed "A war report discredited" misses the mark. Neither George Soros nor his foundation, the Open Society Institute, had any control or influence over the design or results of the study of Iraqi civilian deaths, which was conducted by two leading American universities, Johns Hopkins and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In fact, OSI joined other donors to support the project after it was commissioned, and provided less than half of the funding.

The Open Society Institute does believe that the impact of the war on Iraq's civilians merits serious independent study. A recent World Health Organization report seems to go some distance toward establishing the real number of casualties. It makes clear that the numbers are far greater than the statistics that the US government uses.

We welcome this larger effort, which likely is more accurate. The WHO recognizes that the difficult war circumstances mean that its figures may be understated.

In an age when our government has restricted information on the toll of the war in Iraq - from all but banning the publication of photos of flag-draped American caskets to understating the statistics of Iraqi civilian casualties - these studies are crucial.

The public deserves access to accurate and independent information.

Director of public affairs
The Open Society Institute
New York

JEFF JACOBY'S column repeats many inaccuracies originally reported by others. In April 2007, my colleagues at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health and I released data from our 2006 survey to academics and scientific groups. One of the ethical requirements for collecting our mortality data was that no identifiers (such as addresses of households) be revealed that would place those surveyed at risk for participating in the study. For this reason we have not released such identification.

Allegations of "data-heaping" are based on an inaccurate interpretation of data that we have provided for review. In some cases, our interviewers were unable to review a death certificate from some of the deceased, often because the interviewers were concerned for their personal safety. These instances were spread across a number of clusters, not "heaped" into one or two, as suggested.

Contrary to Jacoby, I have no public position on the politics of the war. There were no conditions requested from The Lancet for the publication date of the 2006 results. I specifically planned for the study publication to be as disconnected as possible from the election, but there were multiple delays in implementation.


WHEN APOLOGISTS for war are reduced to arguing about body counts, look out. This kind of obsession with the trees diverts attention from the forest. The real discussion is not whether The Lancet got it right in reporting that, by October 2006, nearly three quarters of a million people in Iraq had died as a result of the US invasion. Instead we need to ask: How many Iraqi civilians is the United States justified in killing so that Americans feel safe? At what point does our appetite for security break our ethical budget?

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