ORB survey of Iraq War casualties

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On Friday, 14 September 2007, ORB International, an independent polling agency located in London, published estimates of the total war casualties in Iraq since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.[1] At over 1.2 million deaths (1,220,580), this estimate is the highest number published so far. From the poll margin of error of +/-2.5% ORB calculated a range of 733,158 to 1,446,063 deaths. The ORB estimate was performed by a random survey of 1,720 adults aged 18+, out of which 1,499 responded, in fifteen of the eighteen governorates within Iraq, between August 12 and August 19, 2007.[2][3] In comparison, the 2006 Lancet survey suggested almost half this number (654,965 deaths) through the end of June 2006. The Lancet authors calculated a range of 392,979 to 942,636 deaths.

On 28 January 2008, ORB published an update based on additional work carried out in rural areas of Iraq. Some 600 additional interviews were undertaken September 20 to 24, 2007. As a result of this the death estimate was revised to 1,033,000 with a given range of 946,000 to 1,120,000.[4][5]

This ORB estimate has been criticised as exaggerated and ill-founded in peer reviewed literature.[6]

Survey question and results[edit]

Participants of the ORB survey were asked the following question:

"How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003 (ie as a result of violence rather than a natural death such as old age)? Please note that I mean those who were actually living under your roof."

The revised results[5] were

Number of deaths

in household

Percent

of responders

None 72%
One 14%
Two 3%
Three 1%
Four or more "figure more than zero but less than 0.5%"[5]
Don't know 2%
No answer 8%

Causes of death[edit]

ORB reported that "48% died from a gunshot wound, 20% from the impact of a car bomb, 9% from aerial bombardment, 6% as a result of an accident and 6% from another blast/ordnance."[1]

Methodology[edit]

From the September 14, 2007 ORB press release[1] concerning the first set of interviews:

  • Results are based on face-to-face interviews amongst a nationally representative sample of 1,720 adults aged 18+ throughout Iraq (1,499 agreed to answer the question on household deaths)
  • The standard margin of error on the sample who answered (1,499) is +2.5%
  • The methodology uses multi-stage random probability sampling and covers fifteen of the eighteen governorates within Iraq. For security reasons Karbala and Al Anbar were not included. Irbil was excluded as the authorities refused the field team a permit.

Their pollster was Dr. Munqeth Daghir, founding director of IIACSS.[1][7] ORB reports: "IIACSS (Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies) is a polling/ research company established in Iraq in 2003 and which has a network of interviewers covering all regions of the country. Further information about IIACSS and its founding director Dr. Munqith Dagher can be found within the relevant news article in the Newsroom section of ORB’s website."[5]

ORB is a member of the British Polling Council.[5]

Estimated range of deaths[edit]

The 2005 census reported 4,050,597 households. From this ORB calculated 1,220,580 deaths since the 2003 invasion. From the poll margin of error of 2.5% ORB came up with a range of 733,158 to 1,446,063 deaths.[1]

January 2008 update: 1,033,000 deaths[edit]

Opinion Research Business published an update to the survey on 28 January 2008, based on additional work carried out in rural areas of Iraq. Some 600 additional interviews were undertaken and as a result of this the death estimate was revised to 1,033,000 with a given range of 946,000 to 1,120,000.[4]

Criticism[edit]

The ORB poll estimate has come under criticism in a peer reviewed paper entitled "Conflict Deaths in Iraq: A Methodological Critique of the ORB Survey Estimate", published in the journal Survey Research Methods. This paper "describes in detail how the ORB poll is riddled with critical inconsistencies and methodological shortcomings", and concludes that the ORB poll is "too flawed, exaggerated and ill-founded to contribute to discussion of the human costs of the Iraq war".[8][9]

Epidemiologist Francisco Checci recently[when?] echoed these conclusions in a BBC interview, stating that he thinks the ORB estimate was "too high" and "implausible". Checci, like the paper above, says that a “major weakness” of the poll was a failure to adequately distinguish between households and extended family.[10]

The Iraq Body Count project also rejected what they called the "hugely exaggerated death toll figures" of ORB, citing the Survey Research Methods paper,which Josh Dougherty of IBC co-wrote.[8] IBC concluded that, "The pressing need is for more truth rooted in real experience, not the manipulation of numbers disconnected from reality."[11]

John Rentoul, a columnist for The Independent newspaper, has asserted that the ORB estimate "exaggerate[s] the toll by a factor of as much as 10" and that "the ORB estimate has rarely been treated as credible by responsible media organisations, but it is still widely repeated by cranks and the ignorant."[12]

Media coverage[edit]

An 18 September 2007 an article on the Media Lens website[13] titled "The Media Ignore Credible Poll Revealing 1.2 Million Violent Deaths In Iraq" commented: "ORB is no dissident, anti-war outfit; it is a respected polling company that has conducted studies for customers as mainstream as the BBC and the Conservative Party." It continued: "And yet, despite its obvious significance, the ORB study has been almost entirely blanked by the US-UK media. At time of writing, four days after the findings were announced, the poll has been mentioned in just one national UK newspaper - ironically, the pro-war Observer."

A week after its release, in the USA, only the Los Angeles Times[2] carried the story, of the leading newspapers, although NPR[14] did a piece on it the following Tuesday. In the UK, BBC TV reported it in 81 words at the end of a 34 second segment[13] about a bombing in Baghdad on its flagship news magazine Newsnight. On the BBC website, it was described in 131 words tagged on at the end of an unrelated article with no mention of the study in the title.[15] The only report in the UK press was in The Observer where it was appended to a story on Alan Greenspan's saying Iraq was about oil.[3]

After the 2008 ORB update, it was reported[16] in a UK newspaper The Guardian in March 2008.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "More than 1,000,000 Iraqis murdered". September 2007. Opinion Research Business.
  2. ^ a b "Poll: Civilian Death Toll in Iraq May Top 1 Million". By Tina Susman. 14 September 2007. Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ a b "Greenspan Admits Iraq was About Oil, As Deaths Put at 1.2 Million". By Peter Beaumont and Joanna Walters. 16 September 2007. The Observer (UK).
  4. ^ a b Update on Iraqi Casualty Data by Opinion Research Business, January 2008. Info in PDF and DOC form is linked on the bottom of the page.
  5. ^ a b c d e Revised casualty analysis. New analysis ‘confirms’ 1 million+ Iraq casualties. Jan. 28, 2008. Opinion Research Business. Word Viewer for .doc files.
  6. ^ "Conflict Deaths in Iraq: A Methodological Critique of the ORB Survey Estimate" By Michael Spagat and Josh Dougherty
  7. ^ "Of course I was scared. But I really believe that I am doing the right thing". Article about ORB pollster Dr. Munqeth Daghir. Jan. 2006. Research (magazine). (See also: PDF article with photos).
  8. ^ a b "Conflict Deaths in Iraq: A Methodological Critique of the ORB Survey Estimate" By Michael Spagat and Josh Dougherty
  9. ^ "Study reveals fundamental flaws to 2007 estimate of one million Iraqis killed" Royal Holloway University of London
  10. ^ "Counting bodies: how many people were killed in the Iraq war?" BBC World Service
  11. ^ "Exaggerated claims, substandard research, and a disservice to truth" By Iraq Body Count
  12. ^ http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2010/06/13/iraq-death-tolls-yet-again/
  13. ^ a b "The Media Ignore Credible Poll Revealing 1.2 Million Violent Deaths In Iraq", Media Lens, 18 September 2007
  14. ^ "Survey Puts Iraqi War Dead Above One Million". Sept. 18, 2007. NPR.
  15. ^ "Iraq shootout firm loses licence". Sept. 17, 2007. BBC.
  16. ^ What is the real death toll in Iraq?, in The Guardian published Wednesday 19 March 2008.