Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Lancet Study Farce and Iraq The Model (updated)

The Iraq The Model bloggers are owed an abject apology from many of their fellow Iraqi bloggers.

JustForeignPolicy.Org's Extrapolated Estimate
based on the Lancet Study's Extrapolated Estimate.

The Wall Street Journal put it best a couple weeks ago:

"Three weeks before the 2006 [US mid-term] elections, the British medical journal Lancet published a bombshell report estimating that casualties in Iraq had exceeded 650,000 since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. We know that number was wildly exaggerated. It turns out the Lancet study was funded by anti-Bush partisans and conducted by antiwar activists posing as objective researchers. It also turns out the timing was no accident. You can find the fascinating details in the current issue of National Journal magazine, thanks to reporters Neil Munro and Carl Cannon. "

A summary can't do justice to Munro's and Cannon's article. Check it out. But you might be curious regarding what the researchers of the Lancet report have to say in response. Well, according to Munro and Cannon:

"Lafta, the researcher who assembled the survey teams, deployed them throughout Iraq, and assembled the results -- has refused to answer questions about his methods."

Furthermore, in the January 9th, 2008 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine published a definitive estimate of the number of Iraqi violent deaths from March 2003 to June 2006 by the Iraq Family Health Survey Study Group. Their conclusion?

Somewhere between 104,000 to 223,000 deaths. Their best guess being 151,000.

Stunningly, when the New York Times reported the story of the IFHSSG estimate, this was their headline:

W.H.O. Says Iraq Civilian Death Toll Higher Than Cited

This spin was based on the fact that the IFHSSG estimate was higher than the Iraq Body Count estimate. I don't recall the NYT granting much credibility to the IBC estimate in 2006 when the Lancet Study came out.

1. When the Lancet study came out, Omar at Iraq the Model responded by soundly repudiating the authors:

"They shamelessly made an auction of our blood, and it didn’t make a difference if the blood was shed by a bomb or a bullet or a heart attack because the bigger the count the more useful it becomes...in a political race and the more useful it becomes in cheerleading for murderous tyrannical regimes...When the statistics announced by hospitals and military here, or even by the UN, did not satisfy their lust for more deaths, they resorted to mathematics to get a fake number that satisfies their sadistic urges...To me their motives are clear, all they want is to prove that our struggle for freedom was the wrong thing to do. And they shamelessly use lies to do this…when they did not find the death they wanted to see on the ground, they faked it on paper! They disgust me…"

2. Iraqi Konfused Kid did something very interesting. He posted the responses of some two dozen Iraqi bloggers about their opinions of Iraq The Model's post. While a few offered no more response than a defense of ITM to believe and say what they like, and a few less whole-heartedly endorsed them, most were quite hostile:

"...traitor...holocaust denier...nonsense...anti-rational dialogue people...like the Baathist apologist that they so despise...shameful...they are dying for an asylum in USA..."

That last smear is interesting since some of those excoriating the ITM bloggers have themselves since received asylum in the US. At least one of them already had.

3. Even among those not reflexively malignant, none joined Omar in openly doubting the credibility of the Lancet study, except for Iraq Pundit and Talisman Gate. As for Kid, he called the ITM bloggers:

"...just an inbred propaganda machine, if this is not crossing the line, then I don't know what is...an example of the mentality that currently prevails the Green Zone, nervous Iraqis who just want to make a few bucks by catering to an audience and telling them what they want to hear."

Well, now it has been over two weeks since WSJ has forwarded the truth about the Lancet Study to the world; that it was a calculated lie. But not one of those bloggers, including Konfused Kid, have seen fit to retract a minim of the venom they poured on the ITM brothers. So who is the "inbred propaganda machine" here? On the contrary, in the comments of Kid's most recent post, Kid, once again, bashed the ITM bloggers:

"the hoot comedians, they're in your great country now. I bet they'd kiss your ignorant ass more affectionately."

Jeffrey responded:

"On another thread there, I read how you 'hate' the Fadhils. I just don't understand that, to tell you the truth. I have met Omar and he's an articulate Iraqi patriot, no question about that. You demean yourself with this irrational, pig-headed hatred for these three brothers."

Well, I'm afraid I do.

You see, in all their posts, the ITM bloggers and their brother at A Free Iraqi have adamantly refused to see themselves or their countrymen as "victims". This is a terrible thing.

In the meme of the modern Middle Eastern worldview (and especially among those reared on the Arab Post-Colonial myth) that is the ultimate betrayal. To this way of thinking, to be Arab is to wallow perenially in noble self-disgrace for his treatment by the West. For some, to grow up in the Levant and the Near East is to embody the Imam Ali: the victim/savior of one's people. Every child of the Middle East, you see, must carry the torch of Edward Said's "Orientalism", whom the scholar Ibn Warraq says, "taught an entire generation of Arabs the art of self-pity".

That is the sin of the ITM bloggers. They will themselves to see the sun rising on Iraq. Alternately, if the POV of the bloggers like Riverbend and Layla Anwar were universally adopted by their countrymen, Iraq would eventually devolve back to the 18th century. Yet, one need not be retarded or an Islamic Identity fanactic like Khalid Jarrar in order to hold Riverbend and Layla Anwar in high regard while feeling an abiding hate for Omar and Mohammed. You only need to see the world as a "loyal" Arab.


The WSJ follows up with an analysis of the Lancet Study's methods:

Without cluster sampling, the expense and time associated with travel would make in-person interviewing virtually impossible. However, the key to the validity of cluster sampling is to use enough cluster points. In their 2006 report, "Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional sample survey," the Johns Hopkins team says it used 47 cluster points for their sample of 1,849 interviews. This is astonishing: I wouldn't survey a junior high school, no less an entire country, using only 47 cluster points. Neither would anyone else. For its 2004 survey of Iraq, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) used 2,200 cluster points of 10 interviews each for a total sample of 21,688.
What happens when you don't use enough cluster points in a survey? You get crazy results when compared to a known quantity, or a survey with more cluster points. There was a perfect example of this two years ago. The UNDP's survey, in April and May 2004, estimated between 18,000 and 29,000 Iraqi civilian deaths due to the war. This survey was conducted four months prior to another, earlier study by the Johns Hopkins team, which used 33 cluster points and estimated between 69,000 and 155,000 civilian deaths--four to five times as high as the UNDP survey, which used 66 times the cluster points.


Kid responded to this post in the comments at his blog. I responded in turn. Here is an excerpt:

Kid: [ITM's response] was quite simply the equivalent of a dude pulling his hairs

CMAR II: The Lancet study itself was political propaganda that gleefully wrung every imaginable drop of blood from the Iraqi people in order to 1) make Saddam's regime look "not so bad" by comparison, 2) to accomplish an American political end without concern for Iraqis. In October of 2006, the platform of the American opposition party was essentially: "To Hell With the Iraqis. Anything We Do to Help Makes Things Worse. Let's Get Out and Leave Them to Themselves" (which in October 2006 meant "leave them to Al-Qaeda and Iran"). And the Lancet Study was designed to promote that AMERICAN political agenda. Why should any patriotic Iraqi not be outraged by that?

There's a lot of interesting stuff going on in his comments. Check it out.


I erroneously stated that none of the bloggers cited in Kid's post joined ITM in openly questioning the credibility of the Lancet Report at the time. Actually, the ever-dependable Iraq Pundit and Nibras Kazimi did just that at their own blogs. If they condemned it in the email exchange, Kid did not mention it. However, Kazimi was quoted by Kid to say unequivocally, "ITM is a true patriotic blog". Sooni and Bubzi also had very nice things to say about the ITM bloggers. I apologize to all of them for not highlighting that. (I genuinely miss Sooni posting by the way.)


I went poking around at the bloggers who were quoted by Kid regarding the ITM post to see if they wanted to temper their words now that Lancet Report has been shown so emphatically off-base. Only Salam Adil responded in detail. Neurotic Iraqi Wife says she still believes the Lancet Report and will consider responding in a future blog post. I got a response from a fellow reader at Khalid's site.


For completeness sake, I should reference Kid's "just previous" post regarding Omar's rant at the Lancet Survey:

Could you tell me, my dear friends Omar and Mohammed, WHY is this list fake? do you have a single shred of proof as to why these Lancet documents and statistics are such a 'disgrace to all the women, children and men who died'? merely calling it fake and disgusting just don't cut it, please stop living the lie, and take a look outside your window.

Kid criticizes ITM for blasting the Lancet survey for not detailing why survey was untrue. But, actually, he did. He criticized the lumping of civilians with terrorist/insurgent deaths, the fact that it was a stunning outlier of previous studies , and that report's timing and purpose were all about influencing the US mid-term elections rather than any interest in the cause or resolution to the death's of Iraqi's.

Kid is on the record with being adamant against the US pulling its troops out of Iraq. Yet, he has failed to explain why --since the purpose of this survey was to benefit (at the time) an American opposition party that backed abandoning Iraqis-- he would not be outraged by the survey himself.

It's hard to show just how thoroughly the Lancet Survey had been debunked as soon as it came out. The first critics were on TV, not print journals that I can site. The ITM post came out one to five days before the print journalists could collate experts to write articles. However, the following articles were written prior to Kid's campaign against ITM:

Iraq Body Count is hostile to the deposing of Saddam. Hitchens was for it. Engber is somewhere in the middle. Why Kid thought ITM should reiterate what was already said and why Kid needed answers that had already been provided is beyond me.

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