Counting war casualties is almost always fraught with uncertainty and is one of the areas most ripe for exploitation by writers with an agenda. And don’t ever doubt that most of them have an agenda.
This is not to say that the cost of war, both monetary and in human suffering and death, is not very high. Nor is it the case that all wars are worth that cost. But if you’re going to use statistics involving deaths in war, at least make an attempt to get the figures correct.
And at least acknowledge that the details of how one arrives at such statistics is of the utmost importance.
And yet the author of the study, Professor Neta Crawford, writes:
Although the intricacies of the different methods and their assumptions are fascinating, to focus on the arguments about how to record the dead and wounded is to sometimes to obscure the toll of the war.
No, it is to illuminate and clarify and help to get at the truth of the costs of the war.
However, having skimmed through the entire study, I have to say that it’s by no means one of the worst of its kind. At least Crawford discusses the subject of the competing studies and methods in an appendix. But basically she is just guessing, which is hardly unusual. Crawford does mention that the US official estimate is around 77,000 dead and the Iraq Ministry of Human Rights’ estimate is around 86,000 (from January 2004 to late 2008, the period in which casualties were highest), so my best guess would be to place the number of actual deaths as being closer to that range plus some thousands more, although not as high as Crawford’s estimate. But I agree it’s virtually impossible to know.
But the most interesting thing, at least to me, are the statistics that appear in the full study (28 pages long) but which are nowhere to be found in the lengthy press release about it, and that is the fact that the vast majority of the deaths were perpetrated by terrorists (“unknown” perpetrators).
The casual reader who does not delve deeply into the study is not informed of this rather salient fact—and that’s no surprise, is it?