About 151,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the three years after the U.S.-led invasion of their country, according to World Health Organization research published Wednesday.
The study, the most comprehensive since the war started in March 2003, drew on an Iraqi Health Ministry survey of nearly 10,000 households, five times the number of those interviewed in a disputed 2006 Johns Hopkins University study that estimated more than 600,000 Iraqis had died over the period.
Although the United Nations agency’s estimate is much lower than that figure, it exceeds the widely cited 80,000 to 87,000 death toll from the rights group Iraq Body Count, which uses media reports and hospital and morgue records for its tally.
“There are a lot of uncertainties in making such estimates,” WHO statistician Mohamed Ali, co-author of the study, told reporters in a conference call.
He said insecurity made parts of Baghdad and Anbar provinces unreachable for those conducting the survey, which also broached other topics, such as pregnancy and disease.
Many families have fled their homes, some leaving the country, making it hard to give a precise assessment. As a result, Ali said, the margin of error for the toll was relatively high.
The study says the actual number of violent deaths between March 2003 and June 2006 could vary from 104,000 to 223,000.
Still, Ali said the household survey’s large scale gave the findings more weight than previous estimates.
Iraqi Health Minister Saleh Hasnawi said the WHO report was very sound and that it indicated “massive death toll since the beginning of the conflict.”
The White House said it had not seen the study, but mourned the deaths of Iraqi civilians.
“The vast majority of these deaths are caused by the willful, murderous intentions of extremists committed to taking innocent life,” said a spokesman.