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New survey of Iraqi death toll: 151,000

Conducted jointly by the Iraqi government and the World Health Organization, its finding is lower than the 600,000 arrived at by John Hopkins University.

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Though the latest study is the largest in scope yet, and thus more reliable, it ended before "the period of what is believed to be the worst sectarian killings, during the latter half of 2006 and the first eight months of 2007," the Times added.

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Researchers involved in the latest study also said any discussion of casualties should be approached with caution, reports The Baltimore Sun.

While arguing that theirs was the best assessment to date, researchers said they were hampered by shifting populations and their inability to enter some violent neighborhoods.
"Assessment of the death toll in conflict situations is extremely difficult and household survey results have to be interpreted with caution," said Mohamed Ali, a World Health Organization statistician and one of the authors. The study will be published in the Jan. 31 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.

A Pentagon spokesman yesterday appeared to support the new estimate over earlier figures, the Sun added, noting that the earlier Johns Hopkins study had been rejected by the US.

That study, which estimated 600,000 deaths, sparked a debate. Although it provided no estimate of its own, the Pentagon said the Hopkins figure was inflated, while many war opponents said Hopkins provided the best evidence of the war's human toll.
Lester Roberts, an epidemiologist who co-directed the Hopkins study, said he doubted that the new study would cause the public to revise their opinion of the war.
"I think this is advancing the dialogue, and that is good," Roberts said. "For the Iraqi Ministry of Health to say that by June 2006 there were 150,000 deaths is closing the gulf between the Western press version of what has happened and what's been reported by the Middle Eastern press."

In a recent analysis, the National Journal criticized the John Hopkins study for flaws in study design and lack of transparency in the data, and also questioned the neutrality of the study's authors and funders.

The widely differing estimates point to the difficulty of getting information in a time of war. "The true toll may never be known because many deaths go unreported in the chaos that has gripped the country, or the numbers may be tainted by sectarian bias," reports the Associated Press.

The new estimates come as US forces initiated new airstrikes in Baghdad, aimed at Al Qaeda targets, reports the British Broadcasting Corp. "The attack on the Arab Jabour district, said to be a safe haven for al-Qaeda in Iraq, was part of the wider Operation Phantom Phoenix launched on Tuesday. Nine US soldiers have been killed since the start of the operation," the BBC said.

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