Based on a new household survey conducted in Iraq in August, the British Opinion Research Business (ORB) polling agency estimates that the Iraqi death toll from the four-and-half year US war exceeds 1.2 million.
Releasing the results of the poll on September 14, ORB said it drew its conclusion from responses to the question, "How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003?" Sixteen per cent of households reported one death, 5% said two, and 1% said three or more had died.
Based on Iraq's estimated number of households — 4,050,597 — ORB said the 1.2 million figure was reasonable. The total population of Iraq was estimated by the UN in 2003 to be 25,175,000.
ORB said that detailed analysis of the survey revealed that "almost one in two households in Baghdad have lost a family member, significantly higher than in any other area of the country".
The poll also questioned the surviving relatives on the method by which their family members were killed. It revealed that 52% died from a gunshot wound, 21.6% from the impact of a car bomb, 9.5% from aerial bombardment, 6% as a result of an accident and 6% from another blast/ordnance.
The ORB estimate is the highest yet made so far. A study carried out by the Baltimore-based John Hopkins University, published in the British medical journal The Lancet in October 2006, put the number at 654,965, with the possibility that up to 942,636 had been killed between the US-led invasion of March 2003 and July 2006.
In June, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that 2.2 million Iraqis had fled to neighbouring countries since the war began. The Iraqi Red Crescent Organisation reported on August 26 that the number of internally displaced Iraqis had soared from 499,000 on January 1 to 1.14 million on July 31.
This increase coincided with the build-up of the US occupation forces by an extra 21,500 combat soldiers under President George Bush's "surge" strategy. As a result of the surge and overlapping tours of duty, the total number of US troops in Iraq increased from 132,000 in January to 169,000 in mid-September.
On September 13, Bush announced that he would withdraw some 21,500 combat troops from Iraq by mid-2008. "Because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home", he declared in a nationally televised address from the White House.
In reality, Bush was making a virtue out of necessity. The troop surge was only possible because in April the Pentagon extended US troops' tours of duty in Iraq from 12 to 15 months. Beginning next April, the Pentagon will have to start reducing the size of the US occupation force unless it orders a further extension of soldiers' war-zone tours.
The announced "drawdown" of 21,500 troops, Associated Press noted on September 14, "does not account for thousands of support forces — including military police and an army combat aviation brigade — that were sent as 'enablers' and that apparently will stay longer".
Bush's promised "drawdown" falls way short of what most US residents want. A September 4-7 Washington Post/ABC News poll, found that 55% of those surveyed want to see all US combat forces withdrawn from Iraq by next April.
While Bush claimed that the US troop surge had "improved security" in Baghdad and neighbouring areas, a poll commissioned by the American Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC and the Japanese NHK TV channel, which was released on September 10, found that 61% of Iraqis surveyed said that security across Iraq had gotten worse over the last six months. Only 10% said it had improved.
Even more ominously for Washington's counterinsurgency war in Iraq, the ABC/BBC/NHK survey found that a solid 57% of Iraqis said they approved of attacks on US and other foreign occupation forces, up from 51% in March, with 93% of Sunnis and 50% of Shiites supporting such attacks.
In testimony to Congress on September 10, General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, claimed that violence-caused Iraqi civilian deaths had dropped by about 55% from December to August. A chart displayed during Petraeus' testimony claimed that about 2200 Iraqis had been killed in December, compared with fewer than 1000 in August.
That same day, the US McClatchy Newspapers chain reported that the Iraqi interior ministry claimed that 1100 Iraqi citizens were killed across the country in August. No figures were officially released for July, ostensibly because the records were "unclear".
"But", the article added, "an official in the ministry who spoke anonymously because he wasn't authorized to release numbers said those numbers were heavily manipulated. The official said 1980 Iraqis had been killed in July and that violent deaths soared in August, to 2890."