Groundhog Day on Iraq, Again

John Rentoul

groundhogday 225x300 Groundhog Day on Iraq, AgainNewsnight’s Iraq special, 10 years on from the war, was broadcast last night (have I mentioned it?).

I thought the BBC should be congratulated for the programme, which did not feature a single member or former member of the Socialist Workers Party (although there were a few “lies” and “war crimes” in the audience), and it gave a voice to Iraqis.

And the discussion on the future for liberal interventionism was hopeful, and helped to confirm that the Iraq war has failed to put Britain off the idea of interventions. They may often be difficult and contested and even, as in the case of Iraq, unpopular for some time before the decision is made (at the time that the House of Commons voted, public opinion supported military action by 53 per cent to 39 per cent), but it is not impossible, as Libya and Mali have shown, that Britain can still live up to its “Responsibility to Protect”, as the United Nations doctrine is now formally known.

Anyway, tune in tonight for the full 20-minute interview with Tony Blair.

There was just one thing with which I disagree with Newsnight on. Kirsty Wark commented in her introduction that some estimates put the death toll in Iraq since the invasion as high as 650,000, although she did add that both this and the most conservative estimate of 100,000 were “heavily disputed”.

I disagree with the implication that both are equally valid; the lower estimate is plainly closer to the actual toll. The 650,000 figure comes from a survey for The Lancet in 2006, although that figure for “excess deaths” included those from heart attacks and other natural causes. The central estimate for violent deaths in that study was 601,000, although it was a probability survey, with a range of 426,000 to 794,000 at the 95 per cent confidence level. That study was not reliable, and one of its researchers was censured by the American Association for Public Opinion Research for refusing to supply “basic facts” for its inquiry into his work. I do not think it is an estimate that should be used by the BBC.

The two best sources on this are the Iraq Body Count and the Iraq Family Health Survey Report 2006-07 carried out under the aegis of the World Health Organisation. They suggest that at least 120,000 civilians have died over 10 years, and a further 50,000 combatants.

I have said again and again that the case against the invasion of Iraq is strong enough not to require wild exaggeration. And yes, I know I go on about it – it is my groundhog day – but I think it is important.

Update: I have amended this to make clear that Wark did say the Lancet figure was “heavily disputed”.

Picture: by an anonymous artistic genius via Owen Jones

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