War and Civilian Deaths in Iraq/ Iran

“To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true.” ― Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried


As tensions between the U.S. and Iran seem to be growing, I think it’s important to remember how destructive the war with neighboring Iraq was.

Estimating civilian casualties is a notoriously difficult task (Roberts 2010), though several studies have attempted to elucidate how many civilians died as a result of the war (below). These were done at different points in time and primarily entailed through surveys that inquired about deaths in a sampling of households. Some of these studies included violent deaths only, while others looked at “excess deaths” that included deaths directly due to violent causes and indirect ones due to a breakdown in infrastructure. Estimates ranged from 8,000 to as high as 940,000+.

Iraq Deaths

Five surveys on Iraqi civilian deaths, with inclusive years in parentheses. Three of these looked at “excess deaths,” which include both deaths due to violence and indirect deaths stemming from the breakdown in infrastructure due to the war. The two studies with asterisks included only deaths due to violent causes.

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In the Face of Our Mortality

I thought this video on an Irish approach to death with Kevin Toolis was very well done. 

“I think the best way to deal with death is not to invent a new ritual or appoint a new priest caste of bereavement counselors or medical professionals. It is to do what we’ve always done, and that’s gather together as fellow mortals in the face of our mortality and seek to bridge that moment of bereavement and loss together.” 



The Costs of War

There’s a bit of controversy surrounding “The Human Security Report,” (HSR) published a couple of weeks ago by Andrew Mack and colleagues at Simon Fraser University. It suggests that improvements in public health over the last few decades have continued to lower mortality rates in many African nations, even during times of war. Looking at Figure 2.1, it just seems counter-intuitive that Under-5 mortality would not increase in more countries during periods of conflict.

Epidemiologist Les Roberts (Columbia Univ.) argues forcefully that the report is not very good scholarship (to put it kindly). In his words, “this report draws unjustified conclusions and will leave the world more ignorant and misguided for its release.” Ouch. Roberts makes a strong case to back up his statement, including points like this:

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