That's a good piece. Thanks. I don't have the means to establish whether Kaplan's conclusion (a lower figure) is correct or not. I'll note that this dates from nearly a year ago (the survey preceding publishing by some amount of time) and its been a bad year.
If the Iraq Body Count works from press reports, I guess it wouldn't include the deaths caused by failures of municipal services caused as a result of the war. Because such deaths are unlikely to be mentioned in newspaper reports, that biases the IBC numbers downward. On a different note, I notice that if the IBC gives a confidence interval for its number of civilian deaths, the article does not mention it. As our friend Frank Apisa likes to put it: "Acknowledging that you don't know something is not a sign of weakness -- it's a sign of strength." The number of civilian deaths in Iraq is just such a something.
In addition to the points to which Thomas refers, there is yet another factor of which we know nothing. There is, however, a crucial indicator. The Sunnis of Iraq, usually referred to as Arabs, despite the ethnic uncertainty of such a claim, are tribal. Before the rise of the Ba'atist Arab Socialist party, this was also true of the Shi'ites, but those tribal structures and culture have largely been destroyed, and are now virtually meaningless. But among the Sunni Arabs, tribal vendetta was not only a commonplace before the rise of Ba'atists, it was a key factor in power struggles within that organization. We do not have any idea to what extent such vendettas have been pursued since the collapse of the previous regime. This suggests the possibility that there have been hundreds, and perhaps thousands of deaths which also have not been recorded by western news organizations, or a silly site like IBC.
I said that we do have a crucial indicator. That is the attacks which are reported in the Kurdish region. The Kurds represent a wide variety of sectaries--Animists, a few non-ethnic Jews, a few Christians, some Shi'ites, and several sects of Sunnis--and to such an extent was their ethnic identity reinforced by insurgency against the Turks from a northern Iraq base, as well as by Ba'atist oppression, that they were united without reference to sectarian distinctions. One of the tactics of the Ba'atist was like that of so many such regimes down through the ages, a tactic of "colonization." Sunni tribesmen were moved into Kurdish regions, and choice property was seized from the Kurdish owners and handed over to the tribesmen. This has gone on for so long that many of those properties were legated and in the hands of a second or even third generation of Sunni "Arab" tribesmen. Those properties were promptly re-taken by Kurds with the collapse of the old regime. We have no certain figures on the number of deaths resulting from vendettas such as those, but the crucial indicator we have is the prevelance of bombings in the Kurdish north, a region which ought otherwise to have been a model of peace and stability.
The Russo-Turkish War of 1853-56, popularly known as the Crimean War, was the first war in history during which telegraphic communication was possible, and the dawn of the profession of "war correspondent" in a modern "you are there" sense. The Times sent out W. H. Russell, an experienced correspondent, who was nevertheless a prey to the love of melodrama which characterized the popular press of the Victorian era. Russell sent in the reports of the incompetence of the military authorities in the Crimean and at Scutari which has lead to a popular version of history which ignores or is ignorant of the heroic efforts of the original force and the quick and competent response of Palmerston's Union government after the fall of Aberdeen's government. Despite early fumbling, the English got their house in order rather quickly and performed well. Everyone has heard of the charge of the Light Brigade, but almost no one knows of the charge of the Heavy Brigade which occurred before it, and turned looming defeat into heroic victory. Popular history does not record this or Palmerston's competence, however, any more now than at the time when Russell's sensationalism sold newspapers.
We can see the same thing in operation today with both the conservative press (yes Virginia, it's true, the conservatives actually control more news media than the liberals) and the liberal press. Individual reporters publish valuable accounts of little-known aspects of the war and occupation--but it is the steady drum beat of the "mainstream" press which gets the most attention. In the matter of "body counts," the scale of the misery of the Iraqi people gets nothing like the attention which mere numbers should imply--in the west, and especially in America, their plight is simply not as important as Italian or Japanese hostages, as the deaths of Marines or British troops, as the deaths of Iraqi "government" officials.
It is doubtful whether or not "history" (as it survives in the popular mind) will ever know the true scale of death among Iraqis.