Nov 21 2008

Washington Post Responds to FAIR on Iraq War Casualties

But paper continues to underestimate Iraqi death toll

Since FAIR sent out an action alert (10/27/08) about the Washington Post‘s weekly chart, “Iraq War Casualties,” the newspaper has ceased using the misleading term “maximum count” to refer to an Iraqi civilian death toll figure 2 to 10 times lower than the casualty figures reached by household surveys (Washington Post, 11/1/08, 11/8/08, 11/15/08). FAIR appreciates the change.

However, as the Washington Post foreign desk confirmed to one FAIR activist in a letter, the newspaper is still using Iraq Body Count figures, which, as FAIR’s alert pointed out, are “almost certainly a very serious underestimation”:

Iraq Body Count bases its figures on violent civilian deaths that are reported in media outlets and, when possible, by other NGO and official sources. While the group’s figures represent a serious effort to document reported Iraq deaths, they are much lower than the death tolls assessed through surveys of the Iraqi public–the standard method for assessing casualties of large-scale wars or disasters.

Both the 2006 Johns Hopkins study and an earlier study conducted by Johns Hopkins (both published in the peer-reviewed British medical journal Lancet, 10/28/04, 10/11/06) estimated a death toll several times larger than that of Iraq Body Count; the more recent Lancet estimate found 601,027 “excess” deaths from violence in Iraq. A more recent survey conducted in August 2007 by the British polling firm Opinion Research Business (ORB) estimated 1.2 million excess violent deaths in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion. And an investigation by the U.N.’s World Health Organization and the Iraqi Health Ministry found, as the Washington Post reported (1/10/08), that “151,000 Iraqis died from violence in the three years following the U.S.-led invasion of the country.”

As FAIR’s alert argued, readers would get a more accurate picture of the actual range of estimates if the Post were to include a line pointing out that household surveys in Iraq suggest likely Iraqi death tolls 2 to 10 times greater than Iraq Body Count’s statistics.

Thanks to all the activists who wrote to the Post encouraging them to make the Iraq casualty feature more accurate. FAIR will keep you posted on any further communication we receive from the paper on the issue.