Saturday, September 1, 2007

Media Misleads with August Death Toll Figure

Iraqi civilian deaths rise slightly in August - Yahoo! News:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Civilian deaths from violence in Iraq rose slightly in August, with 1,773 people killed, government statistics showed on Saturday.

The figures from various ministries showed 87 police and army personnel reported killed in August, a big drop from the previous month when 224 were killed. The civilian toll was up 7 percent from 1,653 people killed in July. But it was unclear how the figure was affected by the death toll from massive truck bomb attacks against the minority Yazidi community in northern Iraq on August 14.

More than 500 people were killed in those bombings, the Iraqi Red Crescent has said. The provincial governor of the area has put the death toll at 344 with 70 still missing."

It's official: Reuters believes you are stupid enough to be misled by this report.

The Yazidi village hit by the August 14 bombing is in the Kurdish region, near the border with Syria. It is so far out in the boonies that no U.S. troops have been in the region for months. Estimates say 400 people were killed in the attack, with the Red Crescent figure approaching a questionable 500 killed. At the same time of this attack, tens of thousands of Shiites were making a pilgrimage through Baghdad, along streets lined with Sunni neighborhoods and former Al Qaeda safe havens. Al Qaeda and irreconcilable Sunni insurgents chose not to attack that pilgrimage.

Why? Because security was so tight that attempting a spectacular attack would have been futile. Instead, AQI chose a remote village in the middle of nowhere.

It is certainly NOT unclear how that attack affected the civilian death toll. If you split the difference and say 450 were killed in the attack, and take that figure out of the 1,773 killed in August (a number which itself is impossible to verify), then the death toll would have come in at 1,323, which represents a sharp decline from the July figure of 1,643.

If we accept the Provincial Governor's toll of 344 dead in the Yazidi incident, the figure for August would have been 1,429. Still a large number, but still a decrease from July.

In a population of 24 million, 1,429 represents a death rate of 0.0060%. That's six-thousandths of one percent, or about six people per 100,000. These are infinitesimally small figures. Large events like the Yazidi bombing impact these numbers significantly. A small change in a small number can have a large impact.

Reuters, and the other news outlets that tell you the death toll is rising may be technically accurate, but are certainly misleading.