May 25, 2005

More reader mail

Reader mail on recent posts on the announcement of a new Afghan deployment, and civilian casualties in Iraq, below the fold.

Patrick C. writes, on the lack of media interest in a new Canadian Forces deployment to Afghanistan:

The general reader, looking at the DND press release, would have had no concept of the scale involved. It needs at least some sort of head count, the units due for deployment, and where they're from.

BruceR replies: No argument. The CF's public relations traditionally run the gamut between "out of date" and "appalling." Witness the complete absence of CF comment in last night's CTV National News story on two-year recruiting delays, something I mentioned here back in December... one presumes they saw the TV crew and ran away to hide. (On the other hand, I see Anne McClellan is still her usual charming self.) But it's never all PR's fault when a story sinks like a stone, either.

Warren S., on Iraq civilian casualties:

I just got around to reading your post on the '24,000' casualty figure in Iraq that is now being used to both prove, and disprove, the 98,000 dead figure published by Roberts et al in The Lancet (depending on who you read out of the two Tims).

I think everyone is missing the point with the UN figure of 24,000. If you look at the actual report, you'll see that the survey asked for any casualties in the previous 24 months to April 2004. It then unilaterally decided that all of these casualties happened after the ground invasion, and that none happened before! This can be seen on page 55 of the report.

Thanks to their failure to try and tie casualties down to dates, we have no way of knowing if casualties have even increased since the invasion. In fact I don't think it will be long before some parts of the blogosphere claim that many of these 24,000 casualties preceded March 2003. In the absence of any other information we just don't know.

Granted, Saddam was probably killing less people in the last year of his reign than before (I recall you saying just that rather a few months ago), but the combination of an ongoing coalition bombing campaign, state oppression, and the heavy fighting between the kurds and Ansar-al-islam must have still caused some casualties. It seems strange to assign every single one to post March 2003. When we consider that some of the 24,000 are also Iraqi military or insurgents, I see it as even less supportive of the Lancet study.

What it boils down to here is: UN; 24,000 dead over 24 months up to April 2004, and Lancet, 98,000 dead over 18 months from March 2003.

My understanding of the two figures is that the UN figure is a 'total' and the Lancet one is an 'excess over pre-war'. Now my knowledge of statistical method is hopeless- I could write what I know of stats in crayon on the side of a matchbox- but if I'm reading that part right, the difference may even be greater still.

Tim Lambert has tried to explain the difference is due to non-violent deaths being included in the study by Roberts et al. However, although they published that violent deaths and infant mortality had increased post invasion, they also stated near the end of their report that adult non-violent deaths had not increased. To quote page seven of their findings;

"It is suprising that beyond the evidence of elevation in infant mortality and the rate of violent death, mortality in Iraq seems to be otherwise similiar to the period preceding the invasion."

I really will have to post on this myself sometime (lack of time being an obstacle) but I'd have to say the Lancet study is one I'd still question...

Posted by BruceR at 06:24 PM