Tuesday, 04 June 2013 00:00

Poll shows that UK public drastically underestimates Iraqi War deaths

White and red flags, representing Iraqi and American deaths respectively, sit in the grass at Oregon State University White and red flags, representing Iraqi and American deaths respectively, sit in the grass at Oregon State University Credit: Reid Parham

A nationwide sample of UK citizens was asked to estimate the death toll from the war in Iraq that began in 2003. The results were shocking and provide a searing indictment of the British media.

Two questions were asked. The first question was:

How many Iraqis, both combatants and civilians, do you think have died as a consequence of the war that began in Iraq in 2003? Please just give your best estimate.

The responses are summarized below:

Up to 5,000                44%
5,001 - 10,000           15%
10,001 - 20,000          7%
20,001 - 50,000          8%   
50,001 - 100,000        11%
100,001 - 500,000      10%   
500,001 - 1,000,000    4%
1,000,001+                  2%   
Don't know/Not stated  0.3%

According to 59% of the respondents, fewer than 10,000 Iraqis died as a result of the war.  The results are especially shocking because respondents were not asked to limit their estimates to Iraqi civilians or to deaths caused directly by violence. According to peer reviewed scientific studies, the death toll from the war in the first three years alone was between 400,000 – 650,000 Iraqis. About three quarters of the UK public (74%) gave estimates of less than 50,000 – less than half the tally of Iraq Body Count (IBC) which, relying primarily on media reports, counts only Iraqi civilian deaths from violence, not war related deprivation such as lack of food, medicine and sanitation. Only 16% of the public estimated more than 100,000 Iraqi deaths.

The UK public was not any better informed than their counterparts in the USA. A poll done by AP in 2007 asked the US public to estimate the Iraqi civilian death toll from the war. The median answer was 10,000, as in the UK poll. However, the AP poll explicitly asked for an estimate of civilian deaths only.

A very reasonable argument can be made that the death toll from the war is probably about 1 million Iraqis - something perhaps 2% of the UK public is aware of according to the poll results. IBC’s limited count would double between 2006 and the end of 2011. Similarly doubling the scientific estimates made in 2006 for Iraqi deaths yields a death toll of 800,000-1,300,000.

ComRes also asked the following question of the UK public:

What percentage of Iraqi deaths as a result of the war do you think were civilian ie non combatants? Please give a percentage from 1-100. Please just give your best estimate.

The results were widely dispersed. Fifty percent thought that less than half Iraqi deaths were civilians.

By combining the answers to the two questions, ComRes was able to calculate a civilian death estimate for each respondent which allows a more direct comparison with IBC’s tally. The median estimate for Iraqi civilian deaths was 4,000 – about thirty times lower than IBC’s very limited tally of civilian deaths in violent incidents. The summary of civilian death estimates is detailed below:

Up to 5,000                54%
5,001 - 10,000            11%
10,001 - 20,000          6%
20,001 - 50,000          9%   
50,001 - 100,000        7%
100,001 - 500,000       9%   
500,001 - 1,000,000    3%
1,000,001+                  1%   
Don't know/Not stated  0.3%

The poll results are a striking illustration of how a “free press” imposes ignorance on the public in order to promote war. Future wars (or "interventions") are obviously far more likely when the public within an aggressor state is kept clueless about the human cost.

Joe Emersberger

Joe Emersberger is an engineer and a member of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union. Visit his blog.