Con Coughlin not telling the whole truth on Iraqi deaths

Con Coughlin continues his theme of combining pro-war propaganda and anti-BBC screeds in a tirade against John Humphreys.

Coughlin is outraged that Humphreys, in an interview with Jack Straw, suggested “many more people have died since the war than died under Saddam Hussein”. He then goes on to cite an official Iraqi estimate of 150,000 deaths. Unsurprisingly, given his credentials as a propagandist for the Iraq invasion (and other future wars), Coughlin is telling half the story. The official Iraqi estimate is not uncontested or without its (qualified) critics and needs to be understood properly in the context of the ongoing situation in Iraq.

First, it should be noticed that Coughlin doesn’t give any source for his official Iraqi estimate. The only thing I could find were news reports made back in 2006 in which an Iraqi official had estimated around 150,000 dead. That figure was not, in anyway, a serious statistical analysis and merely citing the figure of 150,000 does not tell the whole story. The only other place Coughlin could have taken the 150k figure from was a survey conducted by the Iraqi Health Ministry (IHM) and the World Health Organization (WHO), which was published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). This study suggested an estimate of 151,000 violent deaths since the American-led invasion. Although the study does not estimate non-violent deaths (pdf), it has been possible to use the data provided in the WHO report to get a rough estimate a around 400,000 violent and non-violent deaths since the invasion. And Coughlin’s trumpeting of the official estimate of deaths since the invasion contrasts with his dismissive attitude toward the 2004 Lancet study even though the WHO/IHM used similar methods to gather and analyse the data.

Secondly, was Humphreys really referring to a total or absolute figure for deaths before and after the invasion? I didn’t get the chance to listen to the Today programme, but it wouldn’t surprise me if what he was comparing the death rates before and after the invasion (notwithstanding the point that Humphreys was conducting an interview so making provocative points is not necessarily an expression of his own opinion). A commentator at the Telegraph suggests this was the case (scroll down to the comment left on 25 March 2008 at 13:38). Whatever the case, Coughlin has abused the source of the 150,000 figure by portraying it as it is the total number of deaths. The WHO study — from where I presume the 150,000 figure must have been extracted — actually says the death rate after the invasion is substantially worse than for a period before the invasion. This concurs, broadly speaking and with all the caveats needed for such comparisons, with the more ‘controversial’ studies published in the Lancet, the second of which received so much press attention for its estimate that 655,000 may have died as a result of the invasion (and occupation). Les Roberts, who has been the public face for the Lancet studies, noted in a National Public Radio (NPR) programme that the both the study he was involved in and the WHO study have underlying similarities to try and gauge the effects on the mortality rate before and after invasion — the key difference between the two were the numbers of deaths attributed to violence (the WHO attributes much smaller number of deaths to violence).

In other words, it stills holds that “things have got worse [since the invasion], and they have got a lot worse, not a little bit worse”.

The good news, though, is that lots of people who read Coughlin’s blogs at the Telegraph have realised what a mendacious character he really is and are not buying into his spin.

Meanwhile, over at her Spectator blog, Mad Mel joins in with Coughlin attacking both Humphreys and Straw. She concurs with Coughlin’s use of the official Iraqi figure (and uses the opportunity to make terrible historical comparisons between Saddam and Hitler). Back in January Mad Mel was keen to denounce the 2006 Lancet study as a propaganda exercise funded by an anti-war billionaire (George Soros) and conducted by ex-Ba’athists. The source of Mad Mel’s attack was an article written by the editor of the National Journal, Neil Munro, which is full of smears and innuendo against the Johns Hopkins team that did the research. This is the same Neil Munro who in 2002 was cheering for the “destruction of Iraq” (complete with a stupid remark about 11th-century Wahhabism**), yet has the nerve to call into question the motives and intentions of those who carried out the 2006 Lancet study because they may have opposed such “destruction”!. In the same NPR programme involving Les Roberts, Munro make another smear suggesting that in terms of reporting the number of Iraqi dead there were essentially two camps: people who want to show the war was a success; and those who opposed the war and want to prove what a bad move it was so, ‘like the al-Qa’ida guys’, plant bombs in market places***.

People like Coughlin, Mad Mel’s and Munro would probably like Iraq mess to be extinguished from the news cycle (Coughlin has certainly decried bringing up the origins of the Iraq War). They would probably not like to be reminded of the disastrous effects of the invasion on the people the war was meant to liberate, especially if we remember the Iraq invasion was one of choice, not of necessity, and action that they helped push in the media. Is it surprising then that any reminder of the disastrous choice must be met with yet more lies and spin until the reminder is discredited? The likes of Coughlin, the false humanitarians who claim to support the oppressed, do not appear to be bothered with actually trying to understanding the effects of ill-thought out, uninformed, interventionist policies. For all their nationalistic and supremacist bombast about Our Way Of Life, they don’t seem to be bothered about the effects of such adventures (for which they will probably never have to personally suffer) on our national security and armed forces.

For further reading I would suggest Diane Farsetta’s article at PRWatch, the extensive Lancet archives at Deltoid and numerous posts at Crooked Timber.

*Does Mad Mel realise this is the same Lancet in which a study critical of her other pet hate, MMR vaccines, was published?

**It seemed beyond a simpleton like Munro to perform a quick check. Wahhabism, at the very earliest, could not have arisen before the mid-late 1700s, and even if its ‘true origins’ are pushed back to Ibn Taymiyya that is still only the 14th-century.

***Actually, the invasion of Iraq fits perfectly in with the ‘jihadist’ narrative.

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1 Response to “Con Coughlin not telling the whole truth on Iraqi deaths”



  1. 1 John Rentoul is a tool « pixelisation Trackback on April 5, 2008 at 6:30 pm

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