The True Cost of the War: 600,000 Iraqis Dead?

| Wed Oct. 11, 2006 9:45 AM PDT

In his current column, Wall Street Journal pundit Bret Stevens recounts this story of Condi Rice meeting with the paper's editors last year:

[...] she said that she had telephoned George W. Bush as she flew out of Baghdad on her (then) most recent visit: "Mr. President," she said (and I quote from memory) "this is going to be a great country."

Meanwhile, there's new evidence of just how far from greatness Iraq really is. A new study [PDF] in the Lancet finds that over 600,000 Iraqis may have died in the wake of the American invasion. This, as the Journal reports, is considerably higher than any previous figure, including the "30,000, more or less" that President Bush tossed out last December. That figure, as Adam Shemper wrote in the May/June issue of Mother Jones, came from Iraq Body Count, a website that has been diligently tallying reports of civilian deaths. But IBC uses a conservative, media-based approach, while the new report from Johns Hopkins uses a statistical model known as "cluster sampling." No doubt there will be plenty of academic and partisan sniping about what the real number is. Whatever the final figure, it's a stark reminder of the daily barrage of violence facing average Iraqis. Stephens notes that Rice did not repeat her "great country" story when he met with her recently. He chooses to remain optimistic. "Perhaps she feels that way still: It would be distressing indeed if she did not." But wouldn't it be just as distressing if she still thought Iraq is on the path to greatness?

Update: In this morning's press conference, Bush said he doesn't believe the report is credible and is "amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they're willing to—you know, that there's a level of violence that they tolerate."

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