Any comments from anyone? Particularly on the methodology? Julie Krueger _BBC NEWS | Middle East | Huge gaps in Iraq death estimates_ (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6045112.stm) Huge gaps in Iraq death estimates Analysis By Paul Reynolds World affairs correspondent, BBC News website The estimate that about 655,000 people have died in Iraq as a result of the 2003 invasion is such a large figure that it has led to two differing interpretations. Those who had faith in an earlier report from 2004 - also published in the medical journal The Lancet - are now able to say that this larger survey proves their point that Iraqi deaths have been far greater than publicly reported, and have now reached what the report calls "a humanitarian emergency". Those who thought that the 2004 survey was exaggerated - it estimated 98,000 additional deaths up until September 2004 - think this one is even more wide of the mark. Les Roberts, one of the report's authors said: "It may not be extremely precise, but it gets us into the ball park." On the other hand, Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, which tracks statistics in its Iraq Index, said: "I do not believe the new numbers. I think they're way off." The Brooking Index, relying on the UN (which gets figures from the Iraqi health ministry) and the Iraq Body Count (IBC), estimates the civilian death toll at about 62,000. The IBC, which counts the number of reported civilian deaths, puts them between 43,850 and 48,693, though it adds that this is a baseline and that the true figure could be much higher. The IBC reaction to the Lancet report is awaited. US President George W Bush rejected the estimate. "I don't consider it a credible report," he said. The US commander in Iraq, Gen George Casey, used a similar phrase. British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett was more careful, and did not reject the report outright. However, she questioned it. "The report gives a figure which is orders of magnitude different from any other source... nobody else has come up with figures on this scale... the report has been criticised by the Iraqi government as unreasonable," she said. Report methodology The strength of the report, its authors argue, is in its tried and trusted method. It took a sample and then extrapolated broad results from that sample. This is a technique used in public opinion polling and in marketing, for example, in assessing television audiences. In 2004, 33 clusters were chosen across the country with 30 households in each cluster. These households contained 7,868 people. This time, 47 clusters were chosen, with 12,801 people. Insurgents are now staging daily attacks in Baghdad The method was to question people about deaths in their household first in the "pre-invasion" period and then in the "post-invasion" period leading up to July 2006. The difference would constitute what the survey calls "excess deaths". The report says that there were 82 deaths pre-invasion and 547 post-invasion. It then multiplied these figures up in relation to the Iraqi population of 27,139,584, and came up with an estimated 654,956 "excess" deaths, 2.5 % of the population. Some statistical caveats are entered. The lowest estimate of deaths is put at 392,979 and the highest at 942,636. The lowest figure is still much bigger than the other counts. Of the "excess" deaths, 601,027 were attributed to the violence (mainly from gunfire and mainly among men aged 15-59), the rest coming largely from increased illness and disease. The report concludes: "Our estimate of excess deaths is far higher than those reported in Iraq through passive surveillance methods. This discrepancy is not unexpected. Data from passive surveillance are rarely complete, even in stable circumstances, and are even less complete during conflict." Critics of the report argue that something must have gone wrong in the sampling. Such criticism was made of the first Lancet report. Some said that a high death rate in a small number of households could have hugely changed the e xtrapolated totals. In Slate magazine, Fred Kaplan argued of the first report: "The problem is, ultimately, not with the scholars who conducted the study; they did the best they could under the circumstances. "The problem is the circumstances. It's hard to conduct reliable, random surveys, and to extrapolate meaningful data from the results of those surveys in the chaotic, restrictive environment of war." 'Missing' dead There is also the criticism that, crudely, the numbers of bodies being discovered do not match the figures. It is assumed that the 601,000 violent "excess" deaths between March 2003 and July 2006 (about 40 months) should produce an average of about 500 violent deaths per day. This is not going to be so all the time, given the spikes of violence, but it is a rough criterion. The latest figures from the Iraqi health ministry (reported by the Associated Press news agency on 11 October) stated that 2,667 people were killed in Baghdad during September, 400 more than in August. This gives an average of about 86 per day in the capital. Baghdad is not the whole country of course, but AP reported the United Nations as saying that in July and August, 6,599 people were killed across the country, of which 5,106 were in Baghdad. This suggests that Baghdad has by far the highest number of actual and percentage dead. So, if the current rate in Baghdad is about 86 and the countrywide figure should be about 500 according to the Lancet report, where are the "missing" dead? The answer from the report's authors would be that the dead are there, but have not been counted. That supposes a huge failing by the Iraqi health ministry, a failing the report did not hint at, because it said that death certificates were readily available for most of the reported deaths in the households surveyed. The international media is incapable of reporting overall deaths accurately, given the difficulties of travelling around. The local media is a source but cannot be relied on by itself. We are left then with the estimate from this report and the various counts by other groups. The figures are now even more divergent than they were.