First off, I apologize for my brevity here, but I wanted to share this despite my lack of time to write about it fully. Here goes: You've likely heard of the recent study claiming that upwards of 600,000 people have died as a result of the war in Iraq. While there has been substantial coverage, I suggest checking out the actual report if you are so inclined. I did, and I also asked one of my professors (Doug Rivers, who apparently analyzed this study for CBS) what his take on it was. The short of it is this: there are certainly a few problems. For one thing, they are quite disingenuous regarding the precision with which they present their results (the statistical margin of error is something like 380-940 thousand). Additionally, their methodology is not entirely transparent (I'm particularly curious as to how they went from their study of 1800-some households to a death rate/1000 measurement), and there are also some occasionally dubious techniques (some of their sample was not truly random but rather they chose every fiftieth neighborhood) as well as some unaddressed possible sources of error (incentive for both the pollers and pollees, all Iraqi, to exaggerate the death rate, or overly attribute it to the coalition). The latter issue is likely the most substantial, but as soon as you start trying to attribute "responsibility" for death you open up a philosophical Pandora's box. And there is also some strangeness with the death certificates, where they both rely on it to show their own validity yet reject it as its own independent measure. But philosophy and other quibbles aside, the bottom line seems to be that there is arguably at least some legitimacy to this study. Certainly their premise - that passive observation of death rates (just watching the headlines and adding up the numbers) is not adequate and a comparative and definitive pre-war to post-war death rate is superior - is plausible (observational counts are extremely vulnerable to issues of inadequate reporting, which is arguably severe in Iraq for most regions outside of Baghdad). Whether or not their specific methodology lead to inflated results, it seems safe to say that their general approach is interesting and most definitely suggests results far different from existing measures (Iraq Body Count, etc.). What to conclude from all of this is, of course, that complicated problems require complicated responses, and you cannot boil down this situation to "600,000" or "50,000" or anything else comparably simple. But whatever reality is, this study I would argue gives us strong reason to reconsider the more conservative passive/observational counts. My hope is that further scholars attempt similar surveys, and hopefully manage to patch up a few of the methodological issues. But even if that doesn't happen (and given funding issues and the instability in the region it probably won't), it is worthwhile to discuss the implications of this study and consider what policy prescriptions are appropriate (something they pretend to do at the end of their paper but I would say really don't). My abbreviated view: whether or not there really have been 600,000 deaths largely attributable to the Iraq war, this survey definitely suggests that it is popular Iraqi conception that there has been (and the presence of death certificates in 92% of the cases shows that certainly a great deal of death is happening, whether it is the fault of the US or not). As such, we need to take steps to disassociate the coalition with these deaths. This could mean redistribution of troops to be more outside Baghdad, perhaps even in Kuwait, a la this proposal by Jim Fearon which I discussed back on Tacitus (warning, PDF). The result will be that violence will not subside (if anything it will escalate), but it will become clear that it is the result of sectarian strife and not the evil American empire. This is a necessary step towards the long term goal of eventual true stability: people in Iraq are itching to fight a civil war, and until we let them sort it out all we will be able to do is put a mild damper on violence, not solve it. Anyway, I'll cut it off here. I suppose I'm not really being that brief, but rather my thoughts are not as refined as I would prefer. In any case, I still felt like it was worth sharing, and I hope folks out there agree. Thank you for reading.