Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Battling Body Counts

I've only skimmed Iraq Body Count's initial incredulous reaction to the recent Lancet study. What strikes me is the emphasis they put on politically-motivated violence, as if that were the only likely source of a dramatically higher male death rate in Iraq.

Iraq is awash in guns--perhaps one per household, probably higher than in Saddam's time. Iraq has very high unemployment rates--60% is what I read--a substantial indicator of the kind of male despair and rage that can lead to higher rates of suicide and interpersonal (nonpolitical) homicide. Iraq has a very high crime rate as well, as you'd expect in a nation that is having trouble organizing its police forces, and that troublingly high unemployment rate.

I have some reason to believe that Arab countries dramatically underreport their suicide rates. The statistics defy belief. Can Jordan's really be zero? Can Egypt's really be 0.3 per 100,000 of population? Russia's is 70, and that might be underreporting in itself. I haven't been able to find recent numbers for Iraq.

In the U.S., there are 1.6 times as many suicides as homicides. Homicide itself (obviously high in Iraq) can be a motivator for suicide. Grief over any kind of death often is.

Consider accidental gun deaths as well. Merely having a gun around the household increases the chances of death at home considerably. Add the fact that people in Iraq are understandably jittery over violence, including mere criminal violence, and you have a multiplier effect. The mere availability of guns (and the somewhat greater male attraction to them, and the glorification of them in militia hands) increases the chance that a young boy or young man is likely to kill himself with a gun only by accident.

Iraq Body Count is strongly focused on politically motivated killing in Iraq. There's a place for that. The Lancet Study looks at something more: excess deaths since the invasion. That's important, too. Perhaps more important. Why? Because when you go to war, you go with idea is that it's a temporary, necessary evil that will make things better in the end. If it hasn't, you've failed. And this might explain another mystery pointed out by Iraq Body Count: how the central government's statistics for death rates could be so much lower than the numbers implied by the Lancet study. If there's one shred of legitimacy that the current Iraq government wants to hold onto, it's the perception that they are better than Saddam ever was. And that sort of desperate grasping pose can pose moral hazards in government statistics collections. Could the collections process be corrupted by politics? Why would that be surprising? It's not as if purity in government is widespread in Iraq--Transparency International ranks Iraq somewhere near the bottom.


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