Iraqi Infant Mortality Rate examined

For anyone who is interested - I have retracted this article from my blog because it is pure, unadulterated crap. My research was lazy and I came to an embarrassingly incorrect conclusion. Enjoy!

The original date of writing was 16 October 2005


According to UNICEF, Iraq's Infant Mortality Rate increased after the 1991 Gulf War. Concerned about evidence of an increasing infant mortality rate, the UN relaxed some of its sanctions and began the "Oil for food" program. An official 1998 UNICEF report that examined Iraqi Infant Mortality Rates confirmed this evidence

The UNICEF report, along with subsequent studies, shows the following information:

1990: 40 deaths per 1000 live births
1995: 100 deaths
2000: 102 deaths
2002: 102 deaths

What is obvious from these figures is that Iraqi infant mortality increased by 150%. The 1998 report indicated that an additional 90,000 children were dying every year since 1991.

Oil for food
The "Oil For food" program was initiated in 1996 as a means by which Iraq could sell oil for food and medical supplies. A percentage of the money gained from oil revenue (around 25% in some cases) was put into a Gulf war reparations fund. A total of $65 Billion was raised through this scheme, with $46 Billion going directly to humanitarian needs.

The ongoing investigations into corruption in the Oil-for-food scheme has so far revealed that one person involved in the project, Benon Sevan from Cyprus, pocketed around $3.5 million. It is also estimated that Saddam Hussein made around $10 Billion extra in illegal oil trading during this period as well. This indicates that, of the official total of $65 Billion, less than 0.01% was taken away in corruption. I came up with these figures myself using a calculator and examining the figures in question, including the amounts that were alleged to be taken.

What is obvious from the outset is that, if the UNICEF Infant Mortality figures are to be believed, then the oil for food scheme did not affect the death rates at all. The 2000 and 2002 figures show no improvement on the pre- oil for food 1995 figure.

According to one argument, the banning of Chlorine for disinfecting water supplies contributed greatly to the rise in infant mortality. The reason why Chlorine was banned was because it was a "dual use" chemical that could also be used to manufacture chemical weapons. I am assuming that the Chlorine ban remained in effect after 1996.

If not sanctions then...?
So why, despite the efforts of the UN, did the Infant Mortality rate not improve? UNICEF argued strongly in 1998 that sanctions were the reason - a belief echoed by others, including Madeleine Albright. Yet it is obvious that the availability of food and medical supplies did very little.

The partial lifting of sanctions did not improve the Infant Mortality Rate. Strange as it might seem, it is now probable that sanctions were not the prime cause of the deaths of thousands of children. I have two alternative theories.

My first theory is that the entire problem can be traced to the lack of Chlorine - a chemical that was disallowed despite the relaxation of sanctions. I am not a scientist or an engineer, but I am fairly certain that, while the lack of Chlorine would have bumped up the death rate, it is hardly likely to bump it up 150%. Unless someone can bring me evidence to the contrary, I will discount this theory.

My second theory is that the entire problem can be traced back to the destruction wrought on Iraq's infrastructure during the 1991 Gulf War. We know that the allied forces dropped precision-guided bombs on basic infrastructure in order to degrade Iraq's capacity to defend itself during that war. These included bridges and military installations, but also water supplies, electricity generation, transport infrastructure and so on.

We have to remember that after the first Gulf War, American money was not on hand to rebuild what was destroyed. There is no doubt that Iraq's internal postwar economy underwent a severe recession in the years after the 1991 war. This would have included rising unemployment levels and rising poverty levels.

It is therefore my argument that the high infant mortality rates in post-1991 Iraq were due almost exclusively to the damage inflicted by allied bombing during the First Gulf War and not due to UN sanctions.

Having come up with this argument, I'd like to move on and discuss the current situation. Has the 2003 invasion of Iraq improved the Infant Mortality Rate?

Many of the reports coming out of Iraq suggest very strongly that the nation's infrastructure has yet to reach pre-2003 levels. Water and electricity supplies, at least in Baghdad, are still sporadic. There is no real doubt that Iraq's basic infrastructure has been significantly degraded by the 2003 war, and, despite American efforts, has yet to be fully fixed.

Lancet Study
One of the more controversial studies into death rates in Iraq has been the 2004 study by the British Medical Journal The Lancet (Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: Cluster sample survey - pdf file, 263.4kb). In this study an attempt was made to discern the approximate amount of deaths that have occurred since the 2003 invasion. The idea was not to come up with a raw figure, but rather an attempt to work out how many additional deaths occurred over and above what the death rate normally was. The study worked out that an additional 98,000 people died between the invasion and the time that the study was performed.

What is interesting in this article is that the pre-invasion Infant Mortality Rate is given as approximately 29 deaths per 1000 births (page 4). This is quite a discrepancy from the UNICEF figure of 102 deaths in 2002. It is highly unlikely that the infant mortality rate would have dropped from 102 in 2002 to 29 in 2003.

I do not know how to account for this discrepancy. Either the UNICEF figure is wrong, or the Lancet figure is. The discrepancy may even be due to differing statistical methodologies.

But while the pre-invasion figure published by The Lancet is 29, their studies indicate that the post-war figure is 57. This indicates that post-invasion Infant Mortality rose by approximately 97%.

The figures for the previous 12 months have yet to be published.

So what does all this indicate?

Infant Mortality may have doubled
If we assume that the UNICEF figure is correct and the 2002 figure was 102 infant deaths per 1000 births, and if we assume that The Lancet shows a 97% increase from 2003 to 2004, then we can probably assume that the Infant Mortality Rate in Iraq has virtually doubled since America's invasion. That's around 200 deaths / 1000 births.

I have already said that I am neither a scientist or an engineer. I also admit to not being a statistician. There is no doubt that the discrepancy between UNICEF and The Lancet could be due to an error in analysis from one or both of these organisations. If we assume that this is the case, then the nearly 100% increase that I propose may be in error as well. This is the "disclaimer" bit! If anyone reading this is capable of reconciling both studies, please feel free to do so and let me know. If anyone can prove any errors in analysis, that would be helpful too. The truth needs to be told.

Nevertheless, I think that it is highly unlikely that Iraq's Infant Mortality Rate has decreased since the 2003 invasion. Given the violence and the war damage, it is more likely that the figure has increased.

From the One Salient Overlord Department

© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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CraigS said...

The study worked out that an additional 98,000 people died between the invasion and the time that the study was performed.

Not true. It gave a normal distribution and a probability rather than a specific figure. As I've mentioned before, the Lancet study has been severely criticised. Here are some sites to check out -



Regarding the infant mortality rates, the following paragraph is instructive -

Basically, the UNICEF estimate is quoted as a 2002 number, but it is actually based on detailed,
comprehensive, on-the-ground work carried out between 1995 and 1999 and extrapolated forward. The
method of extrapolation is not one which would take into account the fact that 1999 was the year in
which the oil-for-food program began to have significant effects on child malnutrition in Iraq. No
detailed on-the-ground survey has been carried out since 1999, and there is certainly no systematic
data-gathering apparatus in Iraq which could give any more solid number. The authors of the study
believe that the infant mortality rates in neighbouring countries are a better comparator than
pre-oil for food Iraq...

So the UNICEF number is an extrapolation that doesn't take into account oil-for-food. And the Lancet study numbers were determined by extrapolating from the rates of surrounding countries.

The post-war mortality rate in Lancet was based on their (very flawed) sampling process. But even if we accept the figure, it is a snapshot of what was happening at the time of the survey - not a prediction of what the infant mortality rate would be in 05, 06 or beyond.

I would expect the infant mortality rate to be high immediately after the invasion (due to infrastructure problems), but then I would expect it to decrease as infrastructure is restored.

For you to say "we can probably assume that the Infant Mortality Rate in Iraq has virtually doubled since America's invasion." is clearly not warranted by the limited evidence.

One Salient Oversight said...


Can you give a reference for that quote? I couldn't find it in the URLs you gave me.

At the beginning of the Lancet article, it says the following:

In March 2003, military forces, mainly from the USA and UK, invaded Iraq. We did a survey to compare mortality during the period of 14.6 months before the invasion with the 17.8 months after that.

That appears to be a case of working out the discrepancy - in other words, (Total deaths post invasion) - (Total deaths pre invasion) = (Total deaths due to invasion).

And the Lancet study numbers were determined by extrapolating from the rates of surrounding countries.

Coutries? Where in the Lancet article does it talk about other countries?

Do you have any URLs that discredit the Lancet that are not blogs? Are there any reports in major newspapers or online medical journals or any site that investigates statistics.