John Rentoul criticises those who would use the number of Iraqi dead for their own opposition to the war — a war the likes of Rentoul, an ultra-Blairite mouthpiece, sold to the public.
Admittedly, Rentoul has a point when criticising some of those on the left who spout some headline figure like 655,000 or 1million. Andrew Cockburn’s unwarranted attack on the World Health Organization (WHO) study is one such example. But, much like Con Coughlin’s propaganda, Rentoul shows fails to convey the full story to his readers.
Much the same criticisms I pointed out in my post on Coughlin can apply to Rentoul. He uses a National Journal article to cast doubt on the Lancet studies, without actually explaining to the reader what precisely the National Journal “challenged”; he also fails to provide his readers with rebuttals on the National Journal piece. He tries to smear the people behind the Lancet studies by pointing out their political views on the war. Yet, at the same time he fails to point out that the author of the National Journal article was itching for the “desctruction of Iraq” back in 2002. Nor does he provide the reader with his own views on the first Lancet study back in 2004. (The good people at Media Lens have once again contacted Rentoul.) Nor does Rentoul let his readers know that what upset him most about the Iraq fiasco was not the loss of British servicemen or the death squads and destruction of Iraq, but that the cause of liberal interventionism had been damaged.
Rentoul chides “those who are interested in the truth of this troubling matter” for not investigating the evidence yet simply asserts, without any evidence or citing any numbers, that the NEJM study by the WHO and Iraqi Health Ministry is more ‘authoritative’ than the Lancet, as if the former is without its problems. If anything the NEJM study can be used to support the Lancet 2006 study by noting the pre- and post-invasion death rates. As John Tirman, who commissioned Lancet 2006 study, points out in the comments to Rentoul’s piece:
[T]he five surveys of mortality in Iraq show significant congruence. The Iraq Ministry of Health survey he cites (as a WHO survey) did estimate 151,000 violent deaths, but their data also shows more than 400,000 “excess” deaths overall. Many experts see in the data tables evidence of ambiguous categories where those fearful of the Sadrist MoH interviewers would attribute deaths to “non-violent” causes. In any case, the 400,000+ as of June 2006 would translate into 600-700,000 today. The MoH also could not survey 11% of its sample, because those places were too dangerous. It demonstrates not inconsistencies between the surveys, but, more important, just how difficult it is to do such surveys in Iraq, precisely because it is so violent. As for plausibility of the high mortality figures, consider this: five murders per day in the 80 “urban centers” of Iraq (pop.>20k) would equal 730,000. The high deaths also track with what we know from many other conflicts regarding the ratio of displaced to death—that ratio is rarely more than 6-1, and there are 4.5 million Iraqis displaced from their homes.
What concerns Rentoul most is the Opinion Research Business (ORB) survey which claimed over 1million people had been killed. Why? I don’t doubt the ORB poll is problematic (they had re-release their original findings after criticisms), but it is not without merit. It appears Rentoul’s only objection is that it shows so many people have been killed. I can only quote Sarah Sewell, director of the Carr Center of Human Rights Policy to counter this point:
I remember very well, a couple different conferences with military officials where everyone was questioning the method and the motive of the IBC’s approach […] And it wasn’t until the first Lancet survey came out everyone said, ‘Oh, well, goodness, the Iraq Body Count is so much more reliable.’