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Study puts Iraqi toll at 100,000


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LONDON, England -- Public health experts have estimated that around 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the United States invaded Iraq in March last year.

In a survey published on the Web site of the Lancet medical journal on Friday, experts from the United States and Iraq also said the risk of death for Iraqi civilians was 2.5 times greater after the invasion.

There has been no official figure for the number of Iraqis killed since the conflict began 18 months ago, but some non-government estimates have ranged from 10,000 to 30,000.

The researchers surveyed nearly 1000 Iraqi households in September, asking how many people lived in the home and how many births and deaths there had been since January 2002.

They then compared the death rate among those households during the 15 months before the invasion with the 18 months after it, getting death certificates where they could.

The experts from the United States and Iraq said most of those who died were women and children and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most of the violent deaths.

The study was designed and conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad.

'More likely to die'

While the researchers said the risk of death was 2.5 times more likely after the invasion, they conceded that the risk was 1.5 times higher if mortality around Falluja was excluded.

Two-thirds of violent deaths recorded in the study were reported in the Sunni triangle city of Falluja.

Even with a 1.5-times increase in deaths since the invasion, the number of deaths would be more than 98,000, although this estimate would be much greater if Falluja data is included, the study showed.

While the major causes of death before the invasion were heart attack, stroke, and chronic illness, the risk of dying from violence after the invasion was 58 times higher than in the period before the war.

Most people died from violence after the invasion, the survey said, with most of the households interviewed saying air strikes from coalition forces were to blame.

While the researchers said the sampling was small, in an editorial alongside the survey, Lancet editor Richard Horton said interviewing more households would have improved the precision of the report, "but at an enormous and unacceptable risk to the team of interviewers."

He added that the study's central observation -- that more civilians have died following air strikes -- is convincing.

"With the admitted benefit of hindsight and from a purely public-health perspective, it is clear that whatever planning did take place was grievously in error," said Horton.

"Democratic imperialism has led to more deaths not fewer. This political and military failure continues to cause scores of casualties among non-combatants. It is a failure that deserves to be a serious subject for research."

'Very, very sorry'

The researchers said the findings raise questions for those responsible for launching a pre-emptive war.

The report was released just days before the U.S. presidential election, and the lead researcher told The Associated Press he wanted it that way.

"I was opposed to the war and I still think that the war was a bad idea, but I think that our science has transcended our perspectives," Les Roberts from Johns Hopkins told AP.

"As an American, I am really, really sorry to be reporting this."

Even though the sample size appears small, this type of survey is considered accurate and acceptable by scientists and was used to calculate war deaths in Kosovo in the late 1990s, AP reported.

An expert on study methods who was not involved with the research, said the approach the scientists took was a reasonable one to investigate the Iraq death toll.

But Richard Peto, who is professor of medical statistics at Oxford University, cautioned AP the researchers may have zoned in on hotspots that might not be representative of the death toll across Iraq.

The researchers called for further confirmation by an independent body such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, or the World Health Organization.



Copyright 2004 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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