Fri 29 October, 2004 22:25


By Andrew Cawthorne

LONDON (Reuters) - The government has questioned an estimate by American researchers that 100,000 Iraqi civilians may have died as a result of the U.S.-led invasion.

"We need to be very cautious because we have a number of concerns and difficulties about the methodology behind this," said a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's chief ally in the Iraq conflict.

In a report published by Britain's Lancet medical journal, the American public health experts calculated there were 100,000 "excess deaths" in the last 18 months, mainly due to violence and much of it caused by U.S. air strikes.

The report came days before the U.S. election where Iraq has been a major campaign issue.

While the U.S.-British occupying forces have made no estimates, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) -- an Anglo-American research group tracking civilian deaths via numerous sources -- has a much lower toll of about 14,000-16,000 civilian deaths.

Blair's spokesman said the new estimate, based on household surveys last month in randomly selected neighbourhoods, was not thorough. "It appears to be based on an extrapolation technique rather than a detailed body count."

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said London would treat the report with respect, but noted it seemed unusually high.

"There is a big disparity between the number quoted by this Lancet study and others by independent groups, but obviously we are going to examine it with great care," he told BBC radio.


"This is a very high estimate is however an estimate that is based on a very different methodology from the standard methodology for assessing casualties, namely on the number of people reported to have been killed."

The research in the Lancet compared Iraqi deaths during 14.6 months before the invasion in March 2003 and 17.8 months after.

"Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100,000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq," lead author, Les Roberts of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Reuters.

"The use of air power in areas with lots of civilians appears to be killing a lot of women and children."

The researchers did 33 cluster surveys of 30 households each, recording the date, circumstances and cause of deaths.

Iraq Body Count researcher Hamit Dardagan said the new research was very different from his group which keeps a running total of deaths reported by media or other sources.

"We don't work with estimates, we only add to our database civilian deaths that have verifiably occurred," he told Reuters.

But he added that beyond debates on figures, what it showed was how little is really known about the full impact of the war on Iraqis. "The people who should really be doing this and providing the figures are the occupying forces," he said.

"Why is it being left up to under-funded, small groups of individuals to get accurate counts? It is within their (the occupying forces') power to do so, but they refuse to because it is politically embarrassing."