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WHO Study Finds More Than 150,000 Violent Iraqi Deaths

A new study estimates more than 150,000 civilians in Iraq have died from violence between March 2003 and June 2006. The national household survey was conducted by the Iraqi government and the World Health Organization. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Authors of the study say the results indicate a massive death toll since the beginning of the conflict in Iraq.

The estimate of 150,000 violent deaths is based on interviews conducted in 9,345 households in nearly 1,000 neighborhoods and villages across Iraq.

But, the researchers say their estimate should be viewed with caution. They say it is extremely difficult to conduct a household survey in conflict situations. They say because of insecurity they were unable to visit 11 percent of the households that were on their list. They say people also tend to move in times of conflict.

A World Health Organization Statistician, Ties Boerma, says the estimated number of Iraqis who died from violence during the period covered probably lies between 104,000 and 223,000.

"I do not think any of us wants to send a message that this is a low mortality figure," said Ties Boerma. "I mean, 120 deaths a day based on violent deaths. There have been widely ranging numbers, as you know. Some only believed 50,000 or 30,000 and some who only believed 600,000. Now, this comes out somewhere in-between. But, I do not think we think this is a low number. This is high."

Boerma notes WHO's estimate is three-times higher than the death toll detected through careful screening of media reports by the London-based Iraq Body Count project and about four times lower than a smaller-scale household survey conducted earlier in 2006. That survey by Johns Hopkins University put the number of violent deaths in Iraq at 600,000.

The study finds violence became a leading cause of death for Iraqi adults after March 2003 and the main cause for men between ages 15 and 59. It says males account for 83 percent of all violent deaths. Children under age 15 for 10 percent, and women and older people account for the rest.

It says about 80 percent of the deaths occurred in armed conflict and more than half of them happened in Baghdad. Very few violent deaths, it says, have taken place in Iraqi Kurdistan.

WHO statisticians say there is anecdotal evidence that the number of violent deaths in Iraq has declined since the so-called surge began in February 2007. But, they say they have no accurate figures on that.