Wednesday, March 16, 2005

British Medical Journal publishes statement on Iraq casualty count

This week's British Medical Journal (no subscription required) has a statement from public health experts stating that the failure of US and UK governments to account for casualties in the Iraq war is irresponsible.
We the undersigned experts in public health call on the US and UK Governments to commission immediately a comprehensive, independent inquiry into Iraqi war-related casualties.

Monitoring casualties is a humanitarian imperative. Understanding the causes of death is a core public health responsibility, nationally and internationally. Yet neither the public, nor we as public health professionals, are able to obtain validated, reliable information about the extent of mortality and morbidity since the invasion of Iraq. We believe that the joint US/UK failure to make any effort to monitor Iraqi casualties is, from a public health perspective, wholly irresponsible. The UK policy of relying on extremely limited data available from the Iraqi Ministry of Health is unacceptable.
The experts also call of a scientifically independent study to resolve uncertainties. The issue was raised dramatically by a study in The Lancet in late October (see here and here) which estimated civilian deaths from the invasion to be around 100,000, although the authors believed the number was actually higher than that. The article was much discussed abroad but heavily "spun" in the US where administration and right wing "experts" immediately went about the business of casting doubt on the findings. Experts in epidemiology, however, have vouched for its rigor and the judgment it represents an underestimate, not an overestimate.

The writers of the statement note that if "democratic decision making" is one of the principles for which the war is being fought, failure to count the costs makes it impossible to render an informed decision. Obviously the US and UK would rather the war "ran unopposed" and are setting about assuring this is so. So much for Democracy.