Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Iraq and Lancet

Steering through the spin that every commentator seems to revel in in some way, this is my reckoning of the gist of what the Lancet study discovered, moderated by other indirect techniques of reckoning what went down. Now Dr Clam has brought up two possible sources of inaccuracy that weren't discussed either in the Economist or the Lancet article itself. One is possible "invented" deaths by some of the interviewees keen to show that life is worse after the start of the war. Another is possible "invented" deaths by any one of the actual Lancet researchers/employees. I won't go into detail yet, but I have calculated that this is largely wishful thinking. However, the researchers did point out that as soon as you start talking about the circumstances of the various deaths, rather than the numbers themselves, a lot less can be said with any certainty at all. Therefore, it is actually much more likely that an interviewee would lie about whether the person that died was at home or being directly involved with Saddam's regime. The study indicated that there was a huge peak of deaths early in the conflict, and I think it likely that a large proportion of them should be considered military deaths. Therefore, I would even postulate that a majority of the 100,000 deaths would be either military, paramilitary, or deliberate human shields for certain targets. Now since the war was declared over, things have been actually much better than the first couple of months, as far as Iraqi deaths are concerned - and also very likely to be close to the equivalent of before hostilities started. Therefore, I am much less concerned about the current instability than I am at the Shock and Awe tactics having been used against a failed or failing state. I am not sure if the US military is happy with rough numbers indicating 100 Iraqis dying for every 1 Coalition troop. It does tend to make their tactics look a little cowardly. Different tactics would have almost certainly lead to less Iraqi deaths, better relations with civilians, at probably the same cost of coalition lives, which would have been suffered in direct conflict rather than suicide missions and random captures of non-combat support personnel. Is less deaths overall a noble concept? US opinion seems to only depend on US personnell deaths. If I make an analogy with abortion, if abortions reduce future violent crimes, should we only consider the deaths of people with a life history that concern us, or value all lives equally?

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