Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Forgotten, but not gone

Inaction is intervention by another name

—The most depressing thing since August’s vote in the House of Commons on military action in Syria has been the speed at which the topic appears to have dropped off the political agenda entirely.

Publicity for the Stop the War Coalition’s annual conference last month triumphantly proclaimed that: ‘In a historic setback for the organisers of the War on Terror, protest and public opinion helped stop a new war on Syria.’

Fine, except that the war had been going on for two years prior to August’s parliamentary vote and has continued regardless ever since. The only ‘new’ and ‘historic’ thing about the conflict is the kill rate – two years into the Iraq war the death toll was 67,365 civilians; two years of inaction has resulted in the Syrian civilian death toll being somewhere between 100,000 and 120,000.

The August parliamentary vote was in reality a triumph for staying out rather than a victory for peace – a crucial distinction. The anti-interventionists of the Little England right are fine with that; if only the Stoppers showed as much candour.

Nor, contrary to the portrayal of August’s parliamentary vote, does it take a great deal of moral courage to vote against war: history is, with a few exceptions, far less forgiving of leaders who take the country to war than those who stay out – regardless of the consequences. This is why Tony Blair will be harassed for the rest of his life for his part in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, while former prime minister John Major gets to play the amiable elder statesman despite opposing military intervention which might have prevented  the methodical murder of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.

It is almost always forgotten that inaction can be the same as intervention on the side of the aggressor and against the victim.

It should never have taken the use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar al-Assad for the west to sit up and take notice of Syria. The so-called ‘red lines’ we heard so much moralising about a few months back should have been sufficiently drawn so the regime was guilty of crossing them as soon as it decided to drop high explosives on civilians.

That was one of the west’s initial mistakes on Syria; the mistake now would be to ignore the humanitarian catastrophe resulting from our reluctance to tilt the balance against Assad. To date, two million people have now fled Syria as a consequence of the country’s civil war, half of them children. The United Nations expects that by the end of 2013 there will be 3.5 million Syrian refugees. Those who maintained that the UK was ‘best off out’ of the horrific situation in Syria ought to realise that they were being either foolish or disingenuous. It is not possible to stop the world and get off, and the left, which overwhelmingly opposed intervention, should now be making the case for giving shelter to as many Syrian refugees as Britain can take.

It is unsurprising that the United Kingdom Independence party, with its penchant for the days of penny farthings and tripe shops, should believe that globalisation only applies to the movement of capital and that faraway wars and genocides can be ignored; but we on the left should do better. We are, after all, supposed to be internationalists.


James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward and a contributing editor to Progress


The article refers to the death toll from the conflict in Syria as ‘somewhere between 100,000 and 120,000’. This figure actually refers to the total death toll, rather than the number of civilians killed. The figure for civilian deaths is actually 35,479. However, the total number of civilians killed in Iraq in the first two years of that conflict was 24,865, according to the Iraq body count.


Photo: Freedom House

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James Bloodworth

is a journalist and author of The Myth of Meritocracy


  • Good stuff. Also: given that we are now aware that Obama had had good reason to think that Assad had been playing with chemical weapons BEFORE he gave his red-line speech, the left should learn by now that it needs to do a lot more than just react to whatever world leaders say. It’s not enough to wait for intervention to appear on the Commons tables before making up our minds. That’s the kind of approach that has given the West such an appalling record over the years, and needs to be rectified with grassroots activism.

  • There is a factual error in this article.

    James Bloodworth says “the Syrian civilian death” is “somewhere between 100,000 and 120,000”. In actual fact this is the TOTAL number of deaths, including government and non-government armed combatants (see BBC article

    According to June 2013 figures from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the mortality breakdown is as follows:

    – 24,617 were government security forces and 17,031 were members of pro-government militias – taken together 43.2 percent of the total recorded
    – 35,479 were civilian noncombatants – 36.8 percent of the total recorded
    – 16,699 were anti-Assad fighters – 17.3 percent of the total

    As well as the figures Bloodworth presents being inaccurate and unsourced, the actual SOHR civilian death statistics undermine the point Bloodworth is making in the paragraph.

    Will Progress be correcting this?

    Kind regards

    Ian Sinclair

  • You’re right in so much as it shouldn’t say ‘civilian’ deaths, but you’re wrong in what you are trying to imply – that the death toll in Iraq was somehow higher after two years than in Syria. It wasn’t.

    In the first two years of the Syria conflict, there have been somewhere between 100,000 and 120,000 people killed. As you note, at least 35,479 were civilians. The total number of civilians killed in Iraq in the first two years of the war was 24,865. The UN Human Rights chief also says that in the case of Syria this number is likely to be a “huge underestimation”.

    My point stands: inaction in Syria has had worse consequences than action in Iraq.

  • Hi James

    You seem to be tying yourself up into more knots.

    In the article you note “two years into the Iraq war the death toll was 67,365
    civilians”. However, in your comment you now say “The total number of civilians
    killed in Iraq in the first two years of the war was 24,865”. So which is it?
    Would be good to hear what your sources are for both claims. And if 24,865 is,
    in fact, the correct figure, then it begs the question why did you say it was
    67,365 in original the article?

    Incidentally, in a June 2013 article for Left Foot Forward you wrote:

    “As Terry Glavin has pointed out, the Iraq Body Count project put the 2003-2005 death toll at 67,365 civilians. Two years into the Syrian civil war and the death toll according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is roughly 94,000, and possibly as high as 120,000.” (

    Once again you erroneously compare the total number of deaths (in Syria) with the number of civilian deaths (in Iraq). This confusion just happens to back up
    your argument. Also, if 24,865 is the most accurate figure, then you now need
    to correct this article too.

    On your general argument that we should have attacked Syria, readers might like to consider the testimony of some of the people opposed to attacking Syria:

    “As regards a limited strike, this was always an impossible notion. Any use of
    explosive ordnance by the west, for whatever purpose, would have committed us
    to participation in the Syrian civil war irrevocably.” – General Lord Dannett, former head of the British Army

    “An attack is extremely dangerous. You cannot predict what will happen”… He added it was important to question whether an attack would “actually further our
    or global security, or will it help the wellbeing of the Syrian people.” – Admiral
    Lord West, the former First Sea Lord

    “We should avoid further militarization of the conflict, revitalize the search for
    a political settlement” – Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General

    “There is no military solution to this conflict. Therefore every effort must be made
    to stop further bloodshed and to re-energise the political process to put an
    end to the conflict that has devastated and brutalised Syria.” – The Elders, an
    independent group of eleven former global leaders including Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter

    “There is no military solution” – Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria

    “Assuming the U.S. Congress authorises them, Washington (together with some allies) soon will launch military strikes against Syrian regime targets. If so, it will have taken such action for reasons largely divorced from the interests of the Syrian people.” – International Crisis Group

    “Intervention could intensify the civil war in Syria.” – Lord Michael Williams of Baglan, Acting Head of the Asia Programme at Chatham House

    “President Obama’s plan to bomb Syria with cruise missiles will do nothing to hasten the end of the conflict. Instead, it will likely prolong it.” – Professor Juan
    Cole, Middle East specialist

    “Six Nobel peace laureates of the Nobel Women’s Initiative today called upon the US and its allies to use the international legal system in place of military
    intervention to respond to any use of chemical weapons in Syria.”

    Ian Sinclair

  • Like most Stalinists you’re a crushing bore, Ian.

    You quote me as saying: “two years into the Iraq war the death toll was 67,365 civilians”. However, in your comment you now say “The total number of civilians killed in Iraq in the first two years of the war was 24,865”.

    As I have already pointed out, it was a mistake to use the word ‘civilians’ for this number. But I repeat, the point still stands: more people have died (both civilians and ‘combatants’) in Syria in the past two years than in Iraq in the first two years of the war.

    As I pointed out to you, the Iraq Body Count project puts the 2003-2005 death toll at 67,365 people. Two years into the Syrian civil war and the death toll according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is roughly 94,000 and possibly as high as 120,000.

  • Hi James

    Let’s not lower ourselves to personal insults, shall we? First, because I’m raising an important point that you have made serious factual errors in your piece and which require corrections. And second, because I wouldn’t call myself a Stalinist.

    Your further explanation suggests you continue to be very confused.

    About the Iraq civilian death toll you write “As I have already pointed out, it was a mistake to use the word ‘civilians’ for this number.” Once again you are being disingenuous – you previously said it was a mistake to refer to “civilians” in your original estimate of the Syrian civilian death toll, NOT the Iraq death toll.

    To summarise there are now two factual inaccuracies in your original article:

    1) “The Syrian civilian death toll being somewhere between 100,000 and 120,000”. As I have pointed out this is the total number of deaths in Syria – so includes combatants on both the Government and anti-Government sides.

    2) “Two years into the Iraq war the death toll was 67,365 civilians”. This, you have now admitted, is also inaccurate.

    It would be good if you could post your sources for your original claims and your subsequent clarifications so we can get to the bottom of why you have been using inaccurate statistics.

    And also, as you are the Editor of Left Foot Forward it would be good to know if you plan on publishing a correction to the factual errors you made in the June 2013 article about Syria.

    Ian Sinclair

  • I’m not sure why you are so confused, Ian. Perhaps you are stupid, I don’t know. A few facts:

    The death toll in Syria is between 100,000 and 120,000.

    The death toll in Iraq in the first two years of the war was 67,365.

    Both numbers refer to the TOTAL number of combatants killed. The number in Syria is higher, is it not?

  • Hi James

    I’m sorry, but I have to take Ian’s point here. You are completely wrong when you state that the total death toll in Iraq after the first 2 years was 67,365. Completely and utterly wrong.

    This number is from Iraq body count, and is only a measure of the *civilian* deaths reported in *at least* 2 different media outlets, and thereby recorded in the IBC database, In other words it’s not even the total *civilian* death count, let alone a total count of all violent deaths. It is an undercount on every level. It has been estimated recently that IBC systematically undercounts even *civilian* deaths by a factor of 2 (using recently released documents from Wikileaks).

    If you want to talk total deaths, you would have to look at one of the cluster surveys done in Iraq, but this is not easy, as they tend to estimate *excess mortality* of which only a subset is death by violent action. Currently it looks like 500,000-1,000,000 have died as a result of the bloodbath that is known as the Iraq war.

    To be honest, your article doesnt need this comparison anyway. I would be tempted to just remove the whole comparison…


  • “Currently it looks like 500,000-1,000,000 have died as a result of the bloodbath that is known as the Iraq war.”

    This is complete and utter rubbish.

    A recent cluster sample survey in Iraq had the post-war death toll – for 2003 to 2011 – from violence at around 250,000. As John Rentoul has pointed out, “the authors say that the 95% confidence interval for excess deaths is 48,000–751,000 (it is 95% likely that the true number lies between these numbers). Which means the number of violent deaths is likely to be between 29,000 and 450,000 (assuming you can take 60% of the main estimates, which will be roughly right).”

    “This is compatible, therefore, with the more reliable estimate from Iraq
    Body Count, supported by the Iraq Family Health Survey, of a death toll from violence 2003-2013 of about 170,000, of which about 50,000 were combatants.”

    See here for further reading on the stupidity of taking discredited studies by the Lancet at face value:

  • Hi James

    I might be stupid. Anything’s possible.

    Considering your first response, via Twitter, to me noting you were presenting inaccurate information was “No there isn’t” (,
    I’m glad, after many more tweets and comments, you can now admit you made a mistake. Or two mistakes as it happens. It would have been a lot easier and honest if you had just admitted you had made a mistake when I first raised it.

    Of course, as Aly suggests above, your two new figures for total deaths are themselves questionable – coming, as they do, from Iraq Body
    Count and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Based on your attention to detail so far I’m willing to guess you haven’t researched how these two totals are calculated – i.e. whether they are comparable.

    And as for characterising the US and UK’s involvement in the Syrian uprising/civil war as “inaction”, well that definition of the term only works
    if you also consider the US’s policies towards the Allende Government in Chile as “inaction” too. Of course, an honest writer from the US or UK would note the US sanctions on Syria, the CIA helping to arm the rebels, the non-lethal assistance given to the rebels etc.


  • James

    The point remains that your 67,365 is completely wrong.

    As you have no response to that, I take it you agree you are wrong? There is no way that the *total* death count was 67,000 in 2 years…

    It’s a pretty simple matter.

    You may dispute the 500,000 – 1,000,000 total dead, although I am happy to discuss how that estimate has arisen, if you like. I am totally aware of the recent study you cite, and my estimate of 500,000-1,000,000 *total* dead is completely in keeping with it, as you have just said in your comment. It is also in keeping with the majority of such studies that have been done to date.

    Your numbers, however, remain completely wrong…


  • Hi James

    You are at it again! Please, please stop and think before you
    press ‘send’. Believe me, it will do wonders for any reputation you have.

    Aly said “it looks like 500,000-1,000,000 have died AS A RESULT OF the bloodbath that is known as the Iraq war.” (my emphasis added).

    To which you replied “A recent cluster sample survey in Iraq had the post-war death toll – for 2003 to 2011 – FROM VIOLENCE at around
    250,000” (my emphasis added).

    Do you see what you did there? Moved from deaths that were a result of the Iraq invasion and occupation to deaths that were a direct result of violence.

    As it happens we have the authors of the study to confirm the conclusion of their study: “Approximately a half million deaths in Iraq could be attributable to the war.” ( And as the lead author told National Geographic: “We think it is roughly around half a million
    people dead. And that is likely a low estimate” (


  • There’s quite a number of problems in this discussion. First are the problems on James side. The number of ‘67,365’ for the first two years of the Iraq war is not from Iraq Body Count. I don’t know what it is from. The IBC number of civilian deaths for 19 March 2003 to 19 March 2005 is currently 23,521-26,765. Adding combatant deaths to this would push the numbers considerably above that, but it would not reach 67,365. So I don’t know where this number comes from.

    The Syrian war has also been going on longer than two years, more like two and a half years. The nature of the two wars is also quite different. A more comparable Iraq period to compare to Syria might be the ‘civil war’ period in 2006-07, which could at least be seen as sort of comparable situations, rather than the early stages of the US invasion/occupation in 2003-05. I also see James’ dichotomy of ‘action’ vs. ‘inaction’ as not very apt or compelling. The ‘action’ in Iraq was to invade a country that was not at war and turn it into a war zone. Syria on the other hand is already in a full-blown state of civil war. I also do not see arming, training and financing an armed insurrection as being ‘inaction’. That is action, and it is an action that bears a lot of responsibility for the death toll.

    The next set of problems are these comments from folks purporting to “educate” James about the iraq death toll, but who instead add on their own falsehoods and distortions. For example, Aly claims: “This number [67,365] is from Iraq body count, and is only a measure of the
    *civilian* deaths reported in *at least* 2 different media outlets”

    As noted above, the number is not from IBC, and the “*at least* 2 different media outlets” thing hasn’t been true for more than six years, and simply isn’t true at all for any numbers drawn from the current IBC database, no matter which period.

    It is also asserted, “It has been estimated recently that IBC systematically undercounts even *civilian* deaths by a factor of 2 (using recently released documents from Wikileaks).” Whoever recently estimated this is way off the mark. These are compared here:

    Aly also claims it’s not easy to look at cluster surveys for violence because “they tend to estimate *excess mortality* of which only a subset is death by violent action”. This is also wrong. The cluster surveys that have been done for Iraq are Lancet (2004), ILCS (2005), Lancet (2006), IFHS (2008), PLoS (2013).

    ILCS and IFHS are specifically for violent deaths. Lancet 2006 and PLoS give estimates for both violent deaths and excess deaths. Lancet 2004 gives excess only, but authors have given the violent deaths subset elsewhere. It is not hard to find survey estimates of violent deaths. Indeed there are more surveys giving estimates for violent deaths than there are giving estimates for excess deaths.

    Aly also asserts that, “There is no way that the *total* death count was 67,000 in 2 years…”. Again, wrong. Such a number is consistent with the ILCS, the IFHS, Lancet 2004 and PLoS. The only one it isn’t consistent with is Lancet 2006.

    Aly also asserts that, “I am totally aware of the recent study you cite [PLOS], and my estimate of 500,000-1,000,000 *total* dead is completely in keeping with it”. Again, wrong. The PLoS estimate for excess deaths was “405,000 (95% uncertainty interval 48,000–751,000)”.

    Asserting a *minimum* of “500,000”, as Aly does, is not remotely in keeping with that finding. And Aly’s upper end of “1,000,000” is far outside even the uppermost edge of the PLoS interval, again not remotely in keeping with it.

    The numbers that are in keeping with the PLoS findings would be those of the ILCS, IFHS, and also, for that matter, IBC. The only thing it isn’t consistent with it, again, is Lancet 2006.

    So Aly is upset that you’re not looking at these cluster survey estimates, but misinterprets and misrepresents them, and seems to entirely miss the point that NO numbers on Syria come from cluster surveys. Ian is then also upset that you’re looking at violent deaths rather than “excess deaths”, even though NO sources measuring deaths in Syria give numbers for “excess deaths”. They all give them for violent deaths. So if the idea is to compare Syria to Iraq deaths, the only possibly reasonable comparison to make is violent deaths.

    I can see quite a few problems in the original article, but these folks jumping in to supposedly “educate” James about Iraq numbers are only creating new problems.

  • Hi Josh

    A few things:

    1. The ‘67,365’ number does seem to come from Iraq Body Count. See the ‘introduction’ to this document However, you will then see the second figure that Bloodworth quotes – 24,865 – is quoted on the next page of the same document. A little confusing to say the least. Considering the inaccuracy of Bloodworth’s original article, it seems likely he hasn’t actually read this IBC document – because he would have seen the two different numbers being presented – but took it directly from Terry Glavin’s work on the subject:

    As you can see from my other comments I’ve repeatedly asked Bloodworth to provide his sources for his claims but so far he has
    refused to provide them.

    2. As my post below mentions, I agree with your critique of Bloodworth’s use of the word “inaction”. Calling US and UK policy towards Syria “inaction” is another example of Bloodworth providing a factually
    inaccurate analysis – and if he is aware of the US-UK interference in the
    conflict you describe, then he is also being disingenuous.

    3. My post about James wilfully changing Aly’s reference to deaths attributable to the invasion and occupation to only violent deaths was simply to point out it was another example of James trying to manipulate facts to suit his argument – in this case trying to downplay the slaughter that has occurred in Iraq. It wasn’t an attempt to compare the Iraq and Syria deaths, as you seem to think it was. Like you I am not aware of any
    count of ‘excess’ deaths in Syria.


  • Ian,

    Ok, yes I see that the 67,365 number does appear in the IBC article, but it says that number is civilians “killed or wounded” recorded to that point in time. That’s why the reference in the article (“civilian death toll”) and the subsequent comments suggesting this came from IBC didn’t make sense.

  • Ian and Aly say politely to JB’s tendentious, axe-grinding nonsense what I would say much more robustly – but won’t, for civility’s sake. Note that once his ‘facts’ are effectively rubbished, he starts with the insults. Case pretty well closed, then.

    When we are all dead, sober, honest history will probably estimate the total Iraqi genocide by the USukisnato-axis as upwards of a million innocents – minimum. And by then, no-one will be arguing that it wasn’t all about trying to control the petro-lands around the Gulf, as of course it was. That realpolitikal Great-Game-aim of the Western aggression against Iraq, clearly, has now failed, and is in the process, whilst we watch, of falling apart; as is the empire of the chief genocidist. (And where does that leave the little, remnantary empirette of it’s most abject underling?)

    Wonder if the likes of Bloodworth, Rentoul and their ilk will ever catch up with these realities, before they die? Probably not. Takes real guts and intellectual honesty, no matter what. Oh, and by the way: The throwaway assertion that the Syrian government was behind the – alleged, but still unproven – sarin attack in Ghouta is a straight lie, or a wilful delusion; take your pick; handy for the Western propaganda machine, so now established as ‘fact’ in their dream world, and taken up by some ‘left intellectuals’ (hah!) as a cat laps milk. The actual realworld evidence is all in other directions. But mere reality and facts never hinder the assertions of the suckers of the cruise-missile ‘left’, do they?

  • Hi Josh

    long time no speak! Good to hear from you on this.

    So, let’s start by saying that you work for IBC and therefore are not a completely disinterested observer in this discussion. Let’s also say that you have spent a lot of fruitless hours trying desperately to rubbish any study that criticises IBC. Often with very flimsy arguments. However, the fact that you are connected to IBC ;is also useful, as you have now confirmed that this number did *not* come from IBC, so the question now remains – where did this number come from James?

    On your other points, lets address them quickly.

    1 – “IBC uses 2 media sources”. You are the expert, I stand corrected. IBC records deaths that are confirmed by “2 *independent* sources”. Ok, they might be be media sources, or they might be other sources. Not exactly a “falsehood” eh Josh? That’s a bit melodramatic… Anyway, this doesn’t really affect my point that there is no way that IBC is counting *all* the civilian deaths… Or are you saying, as an IBC spokesperson, you are sure you *are* recording all civilian deaths?

    2 – It *has* been published that IBC is undercounting civilians by a factor of 2. I look forward to your peer reviewed rebuttal of this paper. Till then let’s not discuss this further.

    3 – the majority of cluster surveys are not specifically focused on violent deaths. *None* are focused on violent deaths of *civilians*, so none can be compared with IBC. You know this, Josh, because we have had exactly this discussion years ago. I remember telling you this myself. It’s still the case today.

    4 – I say that there is *NO WAY* that the total death toll for the first 2 years was 67,000. You say “wrong”. Give me a break… you have no idea how many people died. You can’t say wrong or right… that’s just hubris on your part Josh, unless you have a bullet proof source that no one else in the world has. Honestly …

    5 – Asserting a minimum of 500,000 is *entirely* in keeping with the recent paper. If you’re interested I can explain how that is so. It involves mathematics. Actually, I used the IBC numbers to help me get to that number.

    6 – Finally, “Aly is upset”? What makes you say that? I’m not upset. James is completely wrong, and I am simply pointing it out. This is typical of the kind of ad-hom argument you *always* resort to when you have no answers… you and I have played this game many times before.

    Anyway. If you cool down and want to discuss this without mud-slinging, I’m happy to. Otherwise we’ve both spent too many hours going round in circles for me to want to repeat that…

    Cheers mate

  • Aly, you’re the only one mudslinging here. But I’ll put your mudslinging aside. You should take your own advice to cool down. I don’t need it.

    We already know where the 67,000 number came from, see the exchange between me and Ian below. It was a number IBC gave for “killed or wounded” in the 2005 Dossier. So the number actually did come from IBC but it was not a “civilian death toll” number as claimed in the article, which is why it did not make sense.

    1. IBC does not require “*at least* 2 different media outlets” or “2 *independent* sources”. As I said above, this hasn’t been true for more than six years, and isn’t true at all for any period of the current database. You weren’t just wrong in whether it was only “media” sources, you were wrong entirely. So yes, exactly a falsehood. See here, and note the date:

    As to your supposed point asking me to say whether I am “sure you *are* recording all civilian deaths”. I would say I am not, but it would be an irrelevant statement to make in this discussion, since there is NO source measuring deaths in either Iraq or Syria that could answer that affirmatively. Can the source James used for Syria claim to be sure it’s recording “all civilian deaths”? If the answer is no, as of course it is, I fail to see the point of your point.

    2. A lot of falsehoods “have been published” about IBC. Any claim that the WikiLeaks documents show IBC is undercounting civilian deaths by a “factor of 2” is simply false, and not even close to accurate. We’ve already evaluated their relationship extensively, and I’ve been working with that data personally for three years. If you wish to base your views on falsehoods that is up to you, but don’t expect others to take you seriously.

    If this publication is what I think it is, by Les Roberts, I’ve already evaluated the spreadsheet of their matching and it’s wrong most of the time. The conclusions are just wrong, but he doesn’t seem to care. It fits the right narrative. But regardless, shouldn’t you be in your ad hominem invective mode, and saying that he’s “not a completely disinterested observer” and has “spent a lot of fruitless hours trying desperately to rubbish” IBC? I guess that treatment is reserved for some.

    3. “Specifically focused”? Four out of five give estimates for violent deaths. Three out of five give estimates for “excess deaths”. Your original claim to James remains incorrect. There is no particular impediment to looking at surveys for violent deaths. They almost all provide such information, most focus on violence extensively. You are correct that none of them give estimates for “civilian” deaths from violence. They make no civilian/combatant distinction, but this also does not mean they can not be compared. IBC has also evaluated combatant deaths, and has shown, among other things that civilian deaths make up a large majority of the total deaths, and has given approximate numbers for combatant deaths. See here for example: (‘WikiLeaks update’ section) (‘Update on overall deaths’ section)

    So here we can for example compare IBC’s 160,000 civilian and combatant deaths for 2003-2011 to PLoS’ estimate of war-related violent deaths for adults aged 15-60 in the same period:

    “132,000 (95% UI 89,000–174,000) war-related violent deaths.”

    We can conclude clearly that the two measures are consistent. Some complications are the PLOS exclusion of younger children and elderly, but IBC has already established that adult males make up the vast bulk of the deaths it has recorded (80+%), with adult women and children making up the remainder. IBC uses 0-17 for children rather than 0-15 used by PLOS. Removing children and the elderly would likely only bring IBC’s 160,000 down to around 140,000-150,000. So this would not change the conclusion. The IBC central numbers come out slightly higher than the PLoS ‘sibling survey’ central numbers, but well within the range.

    With the PLoS ‘household survey’, on the other hand, the violent death total is more obscured than it needs to be in the report, but the central number would be somewhere around 200-000 to 250,000 for all ages. In this case, the survey would be higher than IBC, but again IBC would still be within the range.

    It’s possible to do similar comparisons with all the other surveys. For example, with the 2006 Lancet survey you can do a similar comparison and conclude that that survey is far higher than IBC and IBC is far outside the range, in sharp contrast to the comparison with PLoS, and indeed with all the other surveys.

    There’s no great difficulty in comparing them. I think you may just prefer people not do such comparisons because you don’t like what they’d find.

    4. Your comment here is just strange, a kind of weird projection. If you claim that “there’s no way” 67,000 deaths is right for the first two years, it is you, not me, who has to claim to know what the “real” number is, and somehow that it’s definitely not that number. All I have to do is look at the evidence as I did above and say that kind of number is at least consistent with pretty much everything out there except Lancet 2006. It may actually be higher than what ILCS and PLoS would suggest for that period, but still probably within the range. Thus, your claim that “there’s no way” that’s true is the groundless claim here.

    You claim that I “have no idea how many people died.” I disagree, but is this supposed to mean that you do? Apparently you imagine you do.

    5. Sorry, claiming a minimum of 500,000 is not at all in keeping with PLoS, or with any other source except perhaps Lancet 2006. Your explanation for this claim might involve mathematics, along with a bar napkin perhaps, but I think I’ve seen it and it mainly involves BS.

  • Hey Josh

    a couple of points – I’ll keep it brief. From the IBC website:

    1 – This means that except for a small minority of deaths whose database entries are tagged as “Provisional,” all inclusions are derived from a minimum of two independent data sources

    You should update the website. However, I’ll accept what you’re saying and I stand corrected. Incidentally, most of the reported numbers of deaths in the Syrian war that I’ve seen are not even close to IBC in terms of rigour or cross checking. Currently, IBC is among the most rigorous and conservative death count I’ve seen.

    2 – Are you going to publish your rebuttal of Roberts paper on IBC undercounting in a journal? I look forward to reading it.

    3 – Finally and really the most important point here (James – are you reading?) is this. According to *you*

    67,365 number does appear in the IBC article, but it says that number is civilians “killed or wounded”

    Which means… James is talking rubbish, and this was the whole point of this thread.

    That IBC undercounts even deaths *civilian* is beyond dispute. By how much is a matter of estimation and debate. It is NOWHERE near the total death count.

    James. Do you plan to correct your mistakes in this article?


  • Oh yes, one more point…

    Josh: “Sorry, claiming a minimum of 500,000 is not at all in keeping with PLoS,”

    Amy Hagopian (lead author of the PLoS study): “We think it is roughly around half a million people dead. And that is likely a low estimate”

    Josh. You should write to Amy and explain to her why she is wrongly interpreting her own study… Perhaps she used a napkin and BS?


  • Survey findings are one thing and personal speculations are another. “We think…” is the latter. The authors can speculate whatever they like to the media about what they imagine is “likely”. Others can speculate something else. The survey results don’t support the speculation you quoted any more than they would support another saying, “We think it is roughly around 300,000, and that is likely a high estimate.” The fact remains that the survey results do not come even remotely close to establishing a minimum of 500,000, no matter what I or Hagopian think is likely.

    I don’t think these survey results are particularly valuable for establishing a minimum in the first place. If by this you mean establishing a certain or near certain number of war deaths that have definitely occurred, then I think IBC actually establishes this at a higher number than this survey is able to do. I consider the survey, instead, a reasonable attempt to establish a (very) approximate likely number of overall excess deaths. And I don’t see any reason to dispute the results at this point. As I noted above, the results on violence aren’t far out of range of what IBC has found, or other sources either, and where it is higher than IBC (such as the household survey), it’s not so far higher that I would balk or insist it’s necessarily wrong. And i don’t have a strong opinion on what the number of indirect or non-violent deaths have been, partly because that’s not what IBC is focused on and also because many of the issues involved in estimating that are rather different than with direct deaths imo.

    So I may agree or disagree with any of the authors’ opinions, and there are some claims in the paper I don’t agree with, but that isn’t the same thing as the survey results. And I don’t see much reason to take issue with the survey results.

  • We certainly want to do a paper on the WikiLeaks material, expanding and updating our previous analysis comparing to IBC (linked earlier), as well as all the other integration work we’ve done with it since that time. This will probably include a section addressing the Roberts paper, but I don’t think I’d do a paper just on that. I also can’t say when that would come out, but it’s on the agenda along with many other things.

    On the points with James’ article. He certainly interpreted the 67,365 number incorrectly, but this wouldn’t really change his point. If you accept the SOHR numbers for Syria, then it does seem like there were more killed in Syria so far than in the first couple of years of the Iraq war, according to most sources for Iraq, Lancet ’06 probably being the main exception.

    My problem, as touched on above, would be that I don’t think his conclusions about intervention or ‘action/inaction’ follow from this observation. It seems like kind of a big non sequitur to me. You could also argue, for example, that the case of Iraq shows that introducing “action” (2003-2011) greatly increases the numbers killed over “inaction” (2002), so therefore adding “action” to Syria will just increase the number of deaths again. Though it’s hard to really say this follows either. This aside, the “action” proposed back in September was supposedly to be very limited targeted strikes aimed at chemical weapons. That wouldn’t have ended the war, and probably wouldn’t have had a dramatic effect on the death toll. And even that didn’t happen due to mass public opposition. So unless James is proposing some kind of far more expansive “action” that he imagines would end the war and the killing, it’s kind of hard to see what the death counts have to do with his argument. The example of Iraq is hardly a good example that a US-UK military intervention is a good approach for bringing peace.

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