Research Poll Says 1.2 Million Slain in Iraq

Los Angeles Times has story claiming a British polling agency, ORB, has conducted a survey in Iraq suggesting as many as 1.2 million Iraqis have been slain since the start of the war in March 2003.

Let me call B.S. on this story right from the get go.

By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 14, 2007
BAGHDAD -- -- A car bomb blew up in the capital's Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Sadr City on Thursday, killing at least four people, as a new survey suggested that the civilian death toll from the war could be more than 1 million.

The figure from ORB, a British polling agency that has conducted several surveys in Iraq, followed statements this week from the U.S. military defending itself against accusations it was trying to play down Iraqi deaths to make its strategy appear successful.


The headline touted a new survey claiming Iraqi civilian death toll may top 1 million. Yet the writer mixes in a recent bombing and accusations the military is fudging the numbers. What is the story here? Bombings and fudged numbers, or the survey claiming extraordinary numbers of dead?

According to the ORB poll, a survey of 1,461 adults suggested that the total number slain during more than four years of war was more than 1.2 million.

ORB said it drew its conclusion from responses to the question about those living under one roof: "How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003?"

Based on Iraq's estimated number of households -- 4,050,597 -- it said the 1.2 million figure was reasonable.

There was no way to verify the number, because the government does not provide a full count of civilian deaths. Neither does the U.S. military.

Both, however, say that independent organizations greatly exaggerate estimates of civilian casualties.

ORB said its poll had a margin of error of 2.4%. According to its findings, nearly one in two households in Baghdad had lost at least one member to war- related violence, and 22% of households nationwide had suffered at least one death. It said 48% of the victims were shot to death and 20% died as a result of car bombs, with other explosions and military bombardments blamed for most of the other fatalities.

The survey was conducted last month.

It was the highest estimate given so far of civilian deaths in Iraq. Last year, a study in the medical journal Lancet put the number at 654,965, which Iraq's government has dismissed as "ridiculous."


The number of deaths the Lancet study claimed have been thoroughly debunked. I feel safe in saying that this poll by ORB can also be dismissed as ridiculous.

Let's break down the numbers. The Iraq War began March 20, 2003. This article says the poll/survey was done last month, so let's call it August 20, 2007, just to make it easy for me. I call that 53 months. That's 4 years times 365 days, plus 5 months times 30 days, and add in four days for a leap year and thirty one day months.

(4 x 365) + (5 x 30) + 4 = 1460 + 150 + 4 = 1614 days since the start of the war.
1,200,000/1614 = 743.9 deaths per day. Even if we use the lower number of 1 million, we come out with 619.6 deaths per day. I'm still not buying it. Do you? Remember, these are war related deaths. Not deaths by old age, illness or anything else. War related.

The LA Times article doesn't give many details on the polling agency, nor a link to the organization's website. The only ORB I could find that resembled the organization in the Times article was ORB - opinion research business. It does market and opinion research and is located in England. From it's home page:

We offer market and opinion research as well as research-led message development through our company partnerships to help your organisation thrive in today’s rapidly changing environment.With experience in global market research in over 65 countries and a dedicated team of market research professionals, ORB can help your organisation meet its objectives.

From it's newsroom page, found the following on it's most recent surveys:

September 2007:UK attitudes towards Al-Basrah withdrawal

Latest findings from our BBC Newsnight Poll - released Sept.3rd 2007

August 2007: Sunnis financially suffering the most in Iraq

- Just one in five Iraqis believe that the general economic situation in Iraq has got better in the last twelve months. - Sunnis are suffering the most with 53% saying it has got worse

August 2007 - ORB proud to be awarded International Quality Standard

ORB has been awarded the international quality standard ISO 20252 by SGS - the worlds leading verification, testing and certification company.

So, they have done some recent surveys focused on Iraq, but nothing about this survey/poll quoted in the LA Times article.

The real problem with this survey is even if it is thoroughly discredited, much as the Lancet study has been, it may be quoted far and wide as authoritative - if it gets any dissemination in the media. How many days before Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi are quoting these results in the Senate or House and flinging it out at press conferences?

Updated 9/15/2007: The subject poll now appears at the ORB website. dKos diarist seems to be buying the results of the poll.