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Time to Call the Iraq Body Count Dangerous Disinfo

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 10:16 am    Post subject: Time to Call the Iraq Body Count Dangerous Disinfo Reply with quote


Finally --and it's WAY overdue-- the Iraq Body Count(IBC) is being revealed as a tame, gross underestimate of civilian deaths in Iraq.

The most damming indictment in a new Media Lens article ( http://medialens.org/alerts/index.php ) is that the IBC figures do not to any significant degree reflect the mass casualties from the thousands of air bombing and missile attacks whose inherent indiscriminate nature result in high levels of civilian casualties.

Media Lens reports that during January to June 2005, according to the US military's own pre-approval standards estimates, over 50 air strikes were conducted which were likely to result in deaths of more than 30 civilians.

How many airstrikes were included in the Iarq Body Count in this period? Just one. In which 14 people were killed.

The US military's own standard basis of figuring the likely death toll would indicate that 1,500 actually died. Meaning the Iraq Body Count underestimated by a factor of 100 to 1. Even granting that the IBC want to report only the most credible casualty total, why are 1,486 deaths excluded from their estimates when the basis for inclusion would be the fairly conservative U.S. military assesments of the toll?

Media Lens also recounts that in the weeks leading up to the December 2005 election:

"the number of airstrikes... increased from a monthly average of 25 in the first half of the year to more than 60 in September and 120 or more in October and November. The monthly number of air missions grew from 1,111 in September to 1,492 in November.

And yet, when we checked, the first 18 pages of the IBC database, covering the period between July 2005 and January 2006, contained just six references to helicopter attacks and airstrikes killing civilians."

So how many casualties are likely missing from the IBC count, and is it beyond their capability to implement some methodology to at least estimate the unrecorded casualties? Let's see.

Looking just at air actions alone, in 2005 there were roughly 500 airstrikes and probably at least 7,000 air missions in all. What would be the likely civillian toll? Asssuming that civillian casualties are an inevitable consequence of airstrikes and air missile attacks, and assuming most were "high collateral" urban missions and one in five were mistaken non-military targets, let's try an rough estimate:

Air Strikes "Collateral Damage"

------------------------------------Military target-----------------Civilian Target
300 Urban...............................240 => 300...........................60 => 200
200 Non-urban........................160 => 50............................40 => 100

------------------------------------------ 350 ------------------------------ 300

Air Missions "Collateral Damage"

------------------------------------Military target-----------------Civilian Target
4,000 Urban ........................3,200 => 2,000.........................800 => 1,000
3,000 Nonurban....................2,400 => 1,000.........................600 => 750

------------------------------------------ 3,000------------------------------1,750

2005 Total = 5,400

Now the above is not meant to be definitive. You could question the basis on different criteria and argue the figure up or down. You could get input from returned Iraq vets and vets of former campaigns to improve the quality of the assesment by basing it it sound military experience.

But they haven't. Because this is not in their "criteria" --which are based entirely on published media reports.

In a response to Media Lens, the IBC say:

"Our work is, and has always been, to systematically record civilian deaths reported by two or more recognised media sources which conform to the basic criteria set out in our methodology. This means that deaths unreported in these media are not in our data base."

Well screw their criteria! Are these "criteria" carved in stone? Or do they have to be examined to see if the IBC is producing misleading propaganda --rather than a worthwhile estimate? Damm right they do.

Here are the kind of terms IBC uses in reply to Media Lens:

" We have always publicly acknowledged that our numbers must underepresent the true figure. The question of by how much is one that exercises us.... We keep these incidents under review pending further information.... ....currently in our pipeline..."

These are merely banal platitudes.

Those rough sample air mission casualty figures above are for just 2005 alone. Start factoring in the totals for the previous years and adding it up.

And THEN start figuring how much U.S. military action is taking place completely... under... the... radar. Incidents never seen by a journalist. Civilians treated as "fighters". Airstrikes never admitted.

We have previously reported Robert Fisk's dire assesment described on page 1 of South Africa's, Sunday Independent, January 30, 2005:


The "real" story is outside Baghdad, in the tens of thousands of square miles outside the government's control and outside the sight of independent journalists..... American air strikes on Iraq have been increasing exponentially. There are no "embedded" reporters on the giant American air base at Qatar or aboard the US carriers in the Gulf from which these ever-increasing and ever more lethal sorties are being flown. They go unrecorded, unreported, part of the "fantasy" war which is all too real to the victims but hidden from us journalists as we cower in Baghdad.... "

The reality is that much of Iraq has become a free-fire zone - for reference, see under "Vietnam" - and the Americans are conducting this secret war as efficiently and as ruthlessly as they conducted their earlier bombing campaign against Iraq between 1991 and 2003."

By any realistic criteria the current IBC count of around 30,000 is off.... by TENS of thousands! The Iraq Body Count is an acedemic exercise which is a boon to war propagandists. It belongs in some university as a future history lesson on mainstream media-dependent reporting. It is an insult to the Iraqi people.

It is dangerous disinformation which lulls us and the public into a delusion.
Without it, we would at least be facing up to a far worse unrecorded horror.

But in practical, pragmatic terms, what can be done?

IBS currently show two figures: Minimum and Maximum. I think the best way forward is for IBC to appoint a panel --including journalists and military experts-- to produce a third figure: "Estimated Unreported". The IBC can publish the criteria and basis for the estimate -just as they do for the existing reported deaths.

Then, halve the difference between min and max and add the estimated unreported to get a running realistic total.

That wouuld preserve the accuray of the reported figure and produce a more honest total Iraq Body Count. Otherwise the phrase "Iraq Body Count" will remain a misnomer, if not an outright sick joke.






On the rare occasions when the issue of civilian casualties is discussed in the mainstream media three words are invariably mentioned: Iraq Body Count ( IBC ).

IBC describes itself as a project which maintains "the world's only independent and comprehensive public database of media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq that have resulted from the 2003 military intervention by the USA and its allies". ( http://www.iraqbodycount.net/background.htm )

IBC is often described as an "anti-war" website - the home page shows an ominous photograph of a Stealth bomber dropping a stick of bombs. The words above the picture were spoken by General Tommy Franks: "We don't do body counts". Below, we find US General Mark Kimmitt's advice to Iraqis who see TV images of innocent civilians killed by coalition troops: "Change the channel."

This does indeed suggest an intense critical focus on suffering caused by British and US forces.

IBC is important, not least because it is often cited as a source in high-profile British and American media. Writing in the Independent, Washington editor Rupert Cornwell observed that IBC is "regarded as the most authoritative independent source on Iraqi casualties". ( Rupert Cornwell, 'Debate rages over number of civilians killed in conflict,' The Independent, August 17, 2005 )

The IBC website reports:

"It has been a heartening feature of the IBC project that press interest in our work has been wide-ranging and sustained. TV and radio broadcasters have included ABC ( USA ) News, CNN International, the BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, National Public Radio ( USA ), Pacifica, and many regional and community stations." ( http://www.iraqbodycount.org/coverage.php )

The list of media mentions recorded at the site continues for some 30 pages.

IBC is also important because its figures for civilian deaths in Iraq have been used by the British and American governments, and by the media, to attack or dismiss higher estimates in other studies. An editorial in the Washington Times, for example, noted that the October 2004 Lancet report estimated 100,000 excess civilian deaths, adding:

"At the time, the British research group Iraq Body Count had placed the number of confirmed deaths reported in the media at around 15,000 - probably a low estimate, but not by a factor of six." ( Leader, 'The Lancet's Politics,' Washington Times, June 23, 2005 )

Political editor John Rentoul wrote in the Independent on Sunday: "even Iraq Body Count, an anti-war campaign, puts the total attributable to coalition forces at under 10,000, rather than the figure with an extra zero that is the common misconception of anti-war propaganda". ( Rentoul, 'Islam, blood and grievance,' The Independent on Sunday, July 24, 2005 )

In October, 2004, the Guardian reported the British government's response to the Lancet report:

"The foreign secretary, Jack Straw... said the figure was very high, and that the website Iraq Body Count, relying on western press reports, had put the death toll at 16,000." ( Patrick Wintour and Richard Norton-Taylor, 'No 10 challenges civilian death toll,' The Guardian, October 30, 2004 )

Certain To Be An Underestimate - The Self-Correcting Media

IBC is clear that there are inherent problems with its methodology. In response to the Lancet study, IBC pointed out:

"We have always been quite explicit that our own total is certain to be an underestimate of the true position, because of gaps in reporting or recording." ( http://www.iraqbodycount.net/press/archive.phpPR10 November 7, 2004 )

But this humility is not consistently expressed. IBC's website also makes quite grand claims: "if journalism is the first draft of history, then this dossier may claim to be an early historical analysis of the military intervention's known human costs". ( http://reports.iraqbodycount.org/a_dossier_of_civilian_casualties_2003-2005.pdf )

So what are the sources behind the database informing this "early historical analysis"? IBC reveals that these are "predominantly Western", with the "most prevalent" being "the major newswires and US and UK newspapers". ( http://reports.iraqbodycount.org/a_dossier_of_civilian_casualties_2003-2005.pdf ).

In its report 'A dossier of civilian casualties 2003-2005', IBC noted that just three press agencies - Associated Press, Agence France Presse, and Reuters - provided one-third of all stories. Reliance on Western media is not deemed a problem, however, because they "are unlikely to suppress conservative estimates which can act as a corrective to inflated claims".

The report added:

"We have not made use of Arabic or other non English language sources, except where these have been published in English. The reasons are pragmatic. We consider fluency in the language of the published report to be a key requirement
for accurate analysis, and English is the only language in which all team members are fluent. It is possible that our count has excluded some victims as a result." ( Ibid )

This is a remarkable explanation for such a serious omission, particularly in light of the immense media attention afforded to the IBC figures.

The website adds:

"The project relies on the professional rigour of the approved reporting agencies. It is assumed that any agency that has attained a respected international status operates its own rigorous checks before publishing items ( including, where possible, eye-witness and confidential sources ). By requiring that two independent agencies publish a report before we are willing to add it to the count, we are premising our own count on the self-correcting nature of the increasingly inter-connected international media network."

This is an admirable focus on the need for verification. However, as discussed, "the international media network" is heavily dominated by Western media in the IBC database - the idea that these media are "self-correcting" is flatly contradicted by media reporting on every conflict involving Western interests since 1945. Indeed, the notion that Western media exercise "professional rigour" is absurd. Noam Chomsky has explained the reality:

"The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist." ( Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, Hill and Wang, 1992, p.79 )

As we have discussed in previous alerts, from its inception at the start of the 20th century, "professional" journalism has been inherently and massively biased in favour of powerful vested interests. It is exactly these interests that have so much at stake when civilians are being killed abroad. It is in exactly this situation that the mainstream media become wilfully blind, wilfully na´ve, and in fact function as a propaganda system for state-corporate power.

Not only is IBC's surveillance-based total for Iraqi civilian deaths one of the most widely cited by journalists, it is also the lowest. Les Roberts, lead author of the Lancet report, told us last year:

"There are now at least 8 independent estimates of the number or rate of deaths induced by the invasion of Iraq. The source most favored by the war proponents ( Iraqbodycount.org ) is the lowest. Our estimate is the third from highest. Four of the estimates place the death toll above 100,000. The studies measure different things. Some are surveys, some are based on surveillance which is always incomplete in times of war. The three lowest estimates are surveillance based." ( Roberts, email to Media Lens, August 22, 2005 )

Whereas the Lancet report estimated around 100,000 civilian deaths in October 2004, IBC reported 17,000 at that time. The Lancet authors found:

"Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100,000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths." ( http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/LAN410A.html )

Indeed 84 per cent of the violent deaths were reported to have been caused by the actions of 'coalition' forces and 95 per cent of those deaths were due to airstrikes and artillery.

By contrast, fully one year later, the Daily Telegraph reported that IBC had evidence that 26,000 to 30,000 Iraqi civilians had died since the war started in March 2003:

"Of those, about 9,000 were reported to have been killed by the US military itself." ( Oliver Poole, 'Victims of insurgents in Iraq top 26,000,' Daily Telegraph, October 31, 2005 )

In response, IBC pointed out, "it is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media... our own total is certain to be an underestimate of the true position, because of gaps in reporting or recording". ( Iraq Body Count, Quick FAQ and Press Release, 7th November 2004, http://www.iraqbodycount.net/press/archive.php )

But as we will see, the problem is not merely that there are "gaps in reporting", but that there are gaps of a particular kind.

Senior figures from Jack Straw to George Bush have been quick to point the public in the direction of IBC and its figures. The Guardian reported last December:

"In a speech in Philadelphia on Monday, George Bush finally put a figure on the number of people killed in Iraq: 30,000. Since the US-led invasion, Bush said that '30,000 have died, more or less', a toll that includes both Iraq civilians and US troops." ( Luke Harding, 'The question: Is Bush's Iraq death toll correct?' The Guardian, December 14, 2005 )

"Other non-governmental organisations, though, suggest that Bush may have got it right. An independent watchdog group, Iraq Body Count, estimates that up to 30,892 Iraqis have died, a figure based on media reports."

Remarkably, Harding seemed to believe that Bush might not have based his figures on IBC's. IBC responded to a related error in Harding's article:

"Incidentally, if George Bush has used our numbers for his '30,000, more or less' death toll of 'Iraqi citizens' then he has misapplied them: ours is a count purely of non-combatant deaths and does not, for example, include Iraqi soldiers killed during the invasion nor other combatants thereafter." ( Letter, Hamit Dardagan, Co-founder, Iraq Body Count, The Guardian, December 16, 2005 )

Harding's claim that "up to 30,892 Iraqis have died" was simply false. But it is a claim regularly repeated across the media. Thus the Financial Times:

"The 30,000 estimate falls within the range compiled by Iraq Body Count, a group that tracks the number of Iraqis killed from media reports. It estimates that between 27,383 and 30,892 Iraqis have lost their lives in violence related to the invasion." ( Demetric Sevastopulo, 'Bush acknowledges about 30,000 Iraqis have died,' Financial Times, December 13, 2005 )

In December the Independent on Sunday made fleeting mention of Iraqi casualties in its review of 2005:

"Death toll in Iraq war stands at 30,000 Iraqis, 2,140 US soldiers and 97 British service personnel." ( Independent on Sunday, December 18, 2005 )

This was clearly a reference to the IBC total - for +civilians+, not all Iraqis. But anyway, as we have seen, the IBC figure is selective in its sources, is the lowest estimate of eight serious studies, and relies on "professional rigour" in the Western media that does not exist. As we will also see, realities on the ground in Iraq cast real doubt on the value of IBC's methodology and numbers.


Testing Iraq Body Count

Earlier this month Media Lens searched the IBC database looking for incidents involving the mass killing of Iraqi civilians by 'coalition' forces between January-June 2005. We began by searching for incidents citing a minimum of 10 deaths and above. This seemed reasonable. After all, the New York Times reported in July 2003:

"Air war commanders were required to obtain the approval of Defense Secretary Donald L. Rumsfeld if any planned airstrike was thought likely to result in deaths of more than 30 civilians. More than 50 such strikes were proposed, and all of them were approved." ( Michael R. Gordon, 'After the War: Preliminaries; U.S. Air Raids in '02 Prepared for War in Iraq,' New York Times, July 20, 2003 )

We found 58 incidents of 10+ deaths. Of these just one was attributed to a US airstrike:

"k785 08 Jan 2005 2:30 AM Aaytha, near Mosul suspected insurgent hideout, wrong house hit laser-guided bomb dropped by F-16 jet 14 [people killed]" ( http://www.iraqbodycount.org/database/bodycount36.php?ts=1137413717 )

Of the other 57 incidents listed, 25 were attributed to suicide bombers and a further 29 were attributed to insurgent actions targeting Iraqi government troops, government officials, religious groups, and so on. The few remaining cases described corpses shot at close range, bodies blindfolded and shot, and executed bodies that had been dumped.

In short, out of 58 incidents involving a minimum of 10 or more Iraqi civilian deaths just one was attributed to the 'coalition'. We then searched for incidents citing less than a minimum of 10 deaths involving 'coalition' airstrikes, helicopter gunfire and tank fire, we found three references in the six-month period we examined totalling 15 civilians killed:

"k815 16 Jan 2005 - Samarra civilian vehicle at checkpoint tank fire 4 [killed]" ( http://www.iraqbodycount.org/database/bodycount35.php?ts=1137415170 )

"k997 13 Mar 2005 - Mosul 'insurgents' firing on helicopter, civilians killed in return fire helicopter fire 3 [killed]" ( http://www.iraqbodycount.org/database/bodycount30.php?ts=1137415112 )

"k1357 19 May 2005 12:00 PM Mosul attack by gunmen on house of National Assembly member Fawwaz al-Jarba, US troops also involved gunfire, helicopter gunfire 8 [killed]" ( http://www.iraqbodycount.net/database/bodycount21.php?ts=1137487725 )

This struck us as frankly remarkable. In the December 2005 edition of the New Yorker, journalist Seymour Hersh reported a US Air Force press release indicating that, since the beginning of the conflict, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing alone had dropped more than 500,000 tons of ordnance on Iraq.

In December 2005, Associated Press reported that the US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps had "flown thousands of missions in support of US ground troops in Iraq this fall with little attention back home, including attacks by unmanned Predator aircraft armed with Hellfire missiles, military records show". ( 'Air Power Strikes Iraq Targets Daily,' Associated Press, December 20, 2005 )

The aircraft included frontline attack planes. The number of airstrikes increased in the weeks leading up to the December 2005 election, from a monthly average of 25 in the first half of the year to more than 60 in September and 120 or more in October and November. The monthly number of air missions grew from 1,111 in September to 1,492 in November.

And yet, when we checked, the first 18 pages of the IBC database, covering the period between July 2005 and January 2006, contained just six references to helicopter attacks and airstrikes killing civilians.

What do these figures tell us about the sincerity and honesty of the IBC editors? Absolutely nothing - it is not at all our intention to challenge their integrity. But there are some important points that need to be made.

First, the dramatic absence of examples of mass killing by US-UK forces suggests that the low IBC toll of civilian deaths in comparison with other studies is partly explained by the fact that examples of US-UK killing are simply not being reported by the media or recorded by IBC. Visitors to the site - directed there by countless references in the same media that have acted as sources - are being given a very one-sided picture of who is doing the killing.

Given that the Lancet reported extremely high civilian casualties from airstrikes and artillery attacks, where are the civilians killed by the vast numbers of US airstrikes in 2005, a year when the insurgency intensified dramatically from 27,000 attacks ( mostly targeting US and Iraqi troops ) in 2004 to 34,100 insurgent attacks in 2005? The IBC's own dossier of civilian casualties 2003-2005, reported: "Air strikes caused most ( 64% ) of the explosives deaths". ( Op., cit ).

Where are the civilians killed by helicopter fire? By unmanned drones? By tank fire?

We asked independent journalist Dahr Jamail - who has witnessed the violence in Iraq first hand, for example in Falluajh - to check the IBC database and give us his opinion. Jamail replied:

"I just finished having a look at what you suggested... I agree with your findings... there is certainly a heavy bias towards counting deaths caused by suicide bombers/etc. as opposed to deaths caused by occupation aircraft, helicopters and tanks/artillery.

I appreciate and respect IBC in that they have ( from the beginning ) been making a sincere effort to track the number of Iraqi civilian casualties where almost noone else is... but whether it be from lack of translators or over-reliance on western outlets, they are most certainly under-reporting Iraqi civilian deaths caused by coalition aircraft.

One of the glaring reasons I find for this is lack of adequate Arab media outlets as their sources. They have Jazeera and a few others, but that is all. Meanwhile, nearly all of the other media outlets they use as sources are western, even including FOX!

One of their criteria is that the source must have an English language site... so that is obviously causing a problem for them.

So in sum, this was a long way of agreeing with you. Due to their sources and lack of adequate Arab media in them ( who do a much better job of reporting Iraqi civilian casualty counts ), it is heavily biased towards western outlets which have from the beginning done a dismal ( at best ) job of reporting on the air war and consequent civ. casualties.

Dahr" ( Email to Media Lens, January 15, 2006 )

On January 13, we wrote to IBC co-founder, John Sloboda, Professor of Psychology at the University of Keele:

"Dear John

I have been researching your database in an attempt to find instances of mass killings of Iraqi civilians by US-UK forces in the first half of 2005. I have found almost nothing. I find any number of examples of mass killings
( double figures and upwards ) as a result of 'suicide car bomb', 'roadside bomb', 'suicide truck bomb', 'execution', and so on - all pointing to killings by insurgents in Iraq - but next to nothing on a similar scale that points to 'coalition' airstrikes and ground attacks in these months.

Presumably this is because this loss of life has not been reported by a press that is heavily controlled by, and biased in favour of, the invading forces. Does this not mean your site communicates an unbalanced message on who is dying and who is doing the killing in Iraq? Can you point me to areas of the site that draw attention to this inherent imbalance?

Best wishes

David Edwards
Co-Editor - Media Lens"

Sloboda replied:

"Dear David,

Thanks for your question about our work.

Our work is, and has always been, to systematically record civilian deaths reported by two or more recognised media sources which conform to the basic criteria set out in our methodology.

This means that deaths unreported in these media are not in our data base. We have always publicly acknowledged that our numbers must underepresent the true figure. The question of by how much is one that exercises us, as it does many others. An extract from our editorial published at the time of the publication of the Lancet report is extracted below. It still stands good. Our 'Dossier of Civilian Casualties in Iraq: 2003-2005' also covers these issues. See:

For the first 6 months of 2005 we have recorded 40 media-reported incidents involving US/UK forces where there were civilian deaths. 92 civilians were reported killed in these incidents, and 94 injured.

We can gladly send you a spreadsheet with these incidents contained within them. Do feel free to ask anything else you need.

These first 6 months of 2005 may be compared to the same months in 2004 when IBC recorded 829-909 civilians killed in incidents where US/UK forces were involved, or 267-293 if the April assault on Fallujah is excluded. Among the 2004 incidents are several mass killings, the largest being the bombing of a wedding party where 42 were killed.

In addition, we have collected stories in our off-line data base of other deaths involving US/UK troops that we have not yet been able to confirm according to our published standards. We keep these incidents under review pending further information, and it is not uncommon for us to add or amend incidents many months after they were first reported.

There are other projects under way in Iraq Body Count which address some of the issues raised here.

Your premise that there have been unreported mass killings caused by the USA in the first half of 2005 is a reasonable one and worth pursuing. If it can be supported by new evidence of specific events, such as those revealed in this Washington Post article regarding events in Husaybah in early November ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/23/AR2005122301471_pf.html )
and which is currently in our pipeline, then these events will undoubtedly make it into our database. While our project is an ongoing and continual compilation of reported deaths, it is not unusual for us to add or amend incidents months after they occurred.

John Sloboda." ( Email to Media Lens, January 14, 2006 )

Sloboda writes: "We have always publicly acknowledged that our numbers must underepresent the true figure. The question of by how much is one that exercises us, as it does many others."

But why has IBC not made crystal clear on its website that its figures under-represent the true figure in a particular direction - one that clearly favours the US-UK 'coalition'? Where are the caveats on the website advising that sources based on a largely Western press reporting on Western armies engaged in a ferocious war are inherently biased against filling in the wrong gaps - the gaps that reflect badly on the West? Why has IBC not mentioned the obvious reluctance of the 'coalition' to allow journalists to discover, research and confirm examples of mass killing by US-UK forces? Why has IBC not mentioned the long history of Western media failing to report Western responsibility for suffering and death in the Third World?

Buried deep in a February 7, 2004 press release on the site, 'Civilian deaths in "noble" Iraq mission pass 10,000,' IBC +does+ make a passing reference to the reality:

"... is there some unwritten rule by which the combatants killed - particularly the salaried, non-conscript soldiers of the aggressor nations - deserve more care and attention than those innocents - non-combatant men, women and children - whose lives have also been extinguished? If no such rule exists, why is it that on almost any day, a web search of the world's media will reveal massively more reports and discussion of Western soldiers killed than of Iraqi civilians, even though the reality on almost every day is that far more Iraqi civilians have been killed than Western soldiers?" ( http://www.iraqbodycount.org/editorial_feb0704.php )

Why is not this truth, and the structural realities of the corporate media system that lie behind it, splashed across the website, in particular on the homepage? After all, this "unwritten rule" suggests IBC's reliance on the "professional rigour" of the press ( see Part 1 ) is a fundamental flaw - these are, after all, the same media that supply many of the reports for the IBC database.

Where are the notices advising that the Pentagon has paid millions of dollars to US public relations firms to plant untraceable stories in the Iraqi press? Where are the references to journalists who claim that newspapers and journalists in Iraq are punished, and even attacked, for publishing stories that reflect badly on the US-UK occupation? Veteran BBC broadcaster Nick Gowing said recently:

"The trouble is that a lot of the military - particularly the American military - do not want us there. And they make it very uncomfortable for us to work. And I think that this is leading to security forces in some instances feeling it is legitimate to target us with deadly force and with impunity." ( Cited, Jeremy Scahill, 'Shooting the messenger,' February 17, 2005, www.thenation.com )

In its 2005 dossier, IBC noted:

"Current reporting is increasingly undertaken by Iraqi staff working for western media outlets, with Iraqi names now appearing more regularly as authors or coauthors. Western journalists have always relied on Iraqi assistants ( drivers, interpreters, etc. ). In a very real sense, therefore, the IBC database increasingly depends on the bravery and dedication of Iraqi media workers continuing to risk life and limb to inform the world about the situation in their country." ( http://reports.iraqbodycount.org/a_dossier_of_civilian_casualties_2003-2005.pdf/ )

This poses a real problem for the credibility of the database for reasons which should be obvious. Muhammad Hayat, a journalist for the newspaper Baghdad Today, has described threats received by newspapers after they had published articles that offended the US military:

"I can't make any direct accusations, but it's an incredible coincidence that threats always followed negative articles." ( 'Iraqis express anger over "covert" US press plan,' www.irinnews.org, December 19, 2005 )

Khalid Samim, of the Iraqi Journalists Association ( IJA ), added:

"We've also received dozens of reports from local journalists and newspapers saying that they have been the victims of threats after they've written stories containing evidence against the US military and the Iraqi army." ( Ibid )

Samim reports that the IJA has received more than 80 reports of threats against journalists from confirmed insurgents since the war began, and more than 100 from unknown sources. Threats appeared to target those writing about "government behaviour":
"We received 22 reports in January alone, and all of [the threatened journalists] had written about politics during the election period. They want us to be blind to the ongoing violence in the country; to write about agriculture or culture instead of about car bombings or the hundreds who have been displaced." ( 'Violence and threats hamper freedom of expression,' www.irinnews.org, January 25, 2006 )

Samir Muhammad, a journalist working for a local newspaper in Baghdad says:

"Journalists are at continuous risk in Iraq, but if we stop reporting, no one will be responsible for showing the world the disasters here." ( Ibid )

We accept that the IBC editors are sincere and well-intentioned. We accept, also, that they have often made clear that their figures are likely to be an underestimate. But we believe they could have done much more to challenge the cynical exploitation of their figures by journalists and politicians. And they could have done much more to warn visitors to their site of the number and type of gaps in their database.

It is ironic indeed, but unsurprising, that IBC is so highly regarded by the mainstream media, while the Lancet report is subject to intense criticism and even rejected out of hand.

It is not rocket science to perceive obvious flaws in the IBC methodology - a glance at the database suggests that Iraqi civilians are somehow immune to the firepower of US jets, tanks, helicopters and artillery. Other studies, and simple common sense, suggest otherwise.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Iraq Body Count: comment@iraqbodycount.org
Please also send copies of all emails to Media Lens: editor@medialens.org


Last edited by Fintan on Sat Jan 28, 2006 1:56 am; edited 11 times in total
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 8:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Indeed, perhaps the only merit to the Iraq Body Count is it prevents Bush or FOX News commentators from claiming that Iraqi deaths have been even fewer -- and reminds them that, according to their own "reliable" media, the minimum number of deaths is near 30,000.

Unfortunately, it seems that you -- and MediaLens, to whom kudos for the research & report -- are right on in pointing out the downside: that IBC is widely taken as a reliable estimate, quoted as if it were comprehensive, and used to discredit other studies which have yielded much higher numbers. A sort of Pyrrhic victory for the anti-war movement: Alright! The Western corporate media is reporting the devastating figures which the anti-war Iraq Body Count calculated from reports by...the Western corporate media. Oh.

Thanks for the post.
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 28, 2006 1:26 am    Post subject: One caveat.... Reply with quote

Well I did sort of go on a rant -born of frustration at the severly limited
basis being used by IBC for their body count.

But I have now amended the post to make a practical suggestion to improve the existing system

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Joined: 31 Jan 2006
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2006 12:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fintan, hi I just joined, what about talking about the true coalition body count, i'm sure its at least 10 thousand by now, the way they define a hostile casualty, and the no of helicopter flights made, and the no of soldiers evacuated to dresden airbase in germany...
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 05, 2006 6:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

here's another article on this subject.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 08, 2006 8:22 pm    Post subject: A good source for casualty figures from Iraq and Afghanistan Reply with quote

A good source for casualty figures from Iraq and Afghanistan is Unknown News, at http://www.unknownnews.org/casualties.html

Their criteria seems more common sensical than Iraq Body Count, and they explain their methodology in detail, so it's hard to argue with their numbers.

As of 2/7/2006, they're saying that at least 228,558 people have been killed, and 487,329 seriously injured...

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