The Magazine

The Casualties of War

The Lancet study of Iraq deaths is further discredited.

Feb 4, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 20 • By MICHAEL FUMENTO
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So for that last period, while the IFHS daily figure was 2.3 times higher than that of Iraq Body Count, the Lancet 2006 daily figure was a stunning 7.3 times higher than that of the IFHS and 17 times higher than that of Iraq Body Count. As to how high the ORB figure would be, for obvious reasons the IFHS doesn't bother with it. Assuredly, though, it lies somewhere that could only be spotted with a -powerful telescope.

Put another way, those 925 Lancet deaths extrapolated to the U.S. population would be 10,763 killings each day. Doesn't that seem just a bit implausible? Moreover--and this one figure alone is enough to entirely damn the Lancet's claims--the 2006 study says 18 percent of the deaths during the period in which those 925 killings occurred resulted from car bombings. That's an amazing average of 166 daily. These bombings are fastidiously reported in the U.S. media and Wikipedia keeps a comprehensive list of major car bombings in Iraq. Yet the highest single-day total it has for that period is 114, or 42 short of the alleged average. Iraq Body Count could hardly miss any of these deaths; yet remember their total average of killings from all war-related causes for that period was 55.

For a massive number of other red flags having nothing to do with the actual numbers, you will want to read the National Journal article "Data Bomb" by Neil Munro and Carl M. Cannon (it's available even to non-subscribers at But here's one: While it's widely known that the Lancet authors refused to release their data to be evaluated by outsiders, there has been little talk about Riyadh Lafta.

Lafta was the man in charge of the actual collection of numbers, while another Lancet author was in Iraq but holed up in a hotel. As National Journal notes, Lafta was also a high-ranking official in Saddam Hussein's ministry of health and there authored some of the agit-prop papers about the vast number of small children dying from U.N. imposed sanctions after the Gulf war. The assertion that half a million Iraqi children had been killed by sanctions was criticized by no less than the Nation magazine, which noted that in the autonomous Kurdish region in the north child mortality rates actually fell. It opined that laughable assertions that blamed the results of Saddam's cruelty on the U.N. could only undermine efforts to lift the sanctions.

So Lafta doesn't exactly fit the definition of a trustworthy researcher except in the sense of trusting him to come to the "proper" conclusions. (Richard Garfield, a coauthor of Lancet's 2004 study who kept his name off the 2006 paper, told the National Journal he personally had studied "how Saddam had pilfered cash [intended] for the health care system.")

At most scientific journals, alarm bells might have gone off over the likely biases of a Riyadh Lafta. But the editor of the Lancet, physician Richard Horton, has unapologetically used the journal for advocacy on other issues, including a notorious 1998 paper that created an international panic over the safety of the childhood vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella--linking it to autism and bowel disease. That paper became a full-fledged scandal, with 10 of its 13 authors demanding their names be withdrawn from it. The other three are fighting to keep their medical licenses. Horton's reaction? He proudly said he had "no regrets" and pompously declared: "Progress in medicine depends on the free expression of new ideas." (The British press reported "an unprecedented surge of measles cases" this summer, probably traceable to unwarranted fears of the vaccine. Some progress.)

Horton spoke at a rally in 2006 sponsored by Stop the War Coalition, a British group set up on September 21, 2001, which is to say its purpose was to oppose punishing and defeating the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack. At the rally, Horton shouted about the "mountain of violence and torture" in Iraq--and no, he wasn't talking about Saddam. "This axis of Anglo-American imperialism extends its influence through war and conflict, gathering power and wealth as it goes, so millions of people are left to die in poverty and disease," he angrily added. This is not your father's medical journal editor.

As National Journal revealed, Lancet's 2006 study was about half funded by antiwar billionaire George Soros, who in a November 2003 Washington Post interview said that removing President Bush from office was the "central focus of my life" and "a matter of life and death." This no doubt explains the release of the Lancet study four weeks before the 2006 midterm elections, just as Lancet's 2004 study was released days before the presidential election. Even the magazine's ardent defenders don't claim the timing was a coincidence.