Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Counting the dead. The Iraq Body Count.

The methodology used by the Iraq Body Count, explained in detail on their site, is based on that employed by Professor Marc Herold, and relies upon media reports from the conflict. Member of the Iraq Body Count team, daily, go through media reports of casualties in the conflict, extracting information that satisfies the following criteria: a) it comes from a reputable media source, as defined by the IBC (both al Jazeera and Fox News have been used, and according to Sloboda “the vast majority of our sources, at the end of the day, turned out to be US sources, so accusations of an anti-US bias really can’t be upheld), and b) their sources are widely cited and referenced by other sources. “In other words, we’re relying on the inter-relatedness of the world’s press and media, and their professionalism to weed out rogue stories. The other thing is that we don’t publish any incident unless two independent press sources report the same number of deaths. That allows us to exclude some of the wild or misreported claims that are sometimes put up on some of the more extreme web sites but which don’t get picked up by other reputable media.”

As such, it’s important to emphasise that while the figures reported by the IBC are verified, they do not represent the total number of civilian casualties killed to date in the conflict in Iraq, which one must conclude is higher as the media’s ability to effectively report all casualties in Iraq is hampered by the ongoing violence. One of the most common questions Sloboda is faced with is how their work relates to that of the study produced by the medical journal The Lancet. It “used a very different methodology to us. They surveyed nearly one thousand households, randomly chosen all over Iraq, and asked those households how many people they’d lost. They then multiplied through by a factor to provide an estimate for the whole of Iraq. Like an opinion poll, there’s always a margin of error in such work, and the smaller the sample the greater the margin of error. The margin of error in their report, and they didn’t hide this fact in any way, was 8,000 in the lower bound and 200,000 in the upper bound. 100,000 is the midpoint of that, and hence the figure.” Another similar, but larger, study carried out by the United Nations Development Council falls into the same category.”You can’t directly compare their work with ours. For a start, the periods were different. They were carried out last summer, and cover a smaller period of time than ours. Also, their studies made no distinction between civilian and combatant deaths, whereas our study has been very, very careful to exclude any individual that were clearly identified as combatants.

And how does the IBC define combatants? “We take a moral rather than a legal view of combatants. Anyone who initiates deadly violence and kills, or attempts to kill someone, without being provoked or acting in self defence, is seen by us as a combatant. Whether they have an official military status or not. So, for example, all suicide bombers would be considered, by us, to be combatants. Also when there are deaths including a suicide bomber, we always subtract that one, or however many bombers were involved, from the total before publishing it.”

Smart Bombs and Hi-Tech war

The first gulf war in 1991 introduced the world to the concept of the hi-tech war, where reporters could look out their windows to see cruise missiles turning corners for high precision strikes. A decade later, in this new era of warfare, as one commentator trumpeted after the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, “by using JDAM and other guided weapons, planners could designate air strikes against urban targets that otherwise would have been off-limits for fear of collateral damage. The ability to dismantle the Iraqi regime building by building had a powerful effect on the enemy”.

It’s a view presumably shared by President Bush, who in May of this year, when addressing graduating midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, said: “In this new era of warfare, we can target a regime, not a nation, and that means terrorists and tyrants can no longer feel safe hiding behind innocent life. In the 21st century, we can target the guilty and protect the innocent, and that makes it easier to keep the peace”.

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