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The Lancet, Volume 364, Number 9448, 20 November 2004Contents in Full
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The Lancet 2004; 364:1857-1864


Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey

Les Roberts email address a Corresponding Author Information,   Riyadh Lafta b,   Richard Garfield c,   Jamal Khudhairi b   and   Gilbert Burnham a



In March, 2003, military forces, mainly from the USA and the 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 it.


A cluster sample survey was undertaken throughout Iraq during September, 2004. 33 clusters of 30 households each were interviewed about household composition, births, and deaths since January, 2002. In those households reporting deaths, the date, cause, and circumstances of violent deaths were recorded. We assessed the relative risk of death associated with the 2003 invasion and occupation by comparing mortality in the 17·8 months after the invasion with the 14·6-month period preceding it.


The risk of death was estimated to be 2·5-fold (95% CI 1·6–4·2) higher after the invasion when compared with the preinvasion period. Two-thirds of all violent deaths were reported in one cluster in the city of Falluja. If we exclude the Falluja data, the risk of death is 1·5-fold (1·1–2·3) higher after the invasion. We estimate that 98000 more deaths than expected (8000–194000) happened after the invasion outside of Falluja and far more if the outlier Falluja cluster is included. The major causes of death before the invasion were myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accidents, and other chronic disorders whereas after the invasion violence was the primary cause of death. Violent deaths were widespread, reported in 15 of 33 clusters, and were mainly attributed to coalition forces. Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children. The risk of death from violence in the period after the invasion was 58 times higher (95% CI 8·1–419) than in the period before the war.


Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths. We have shown that collection of public-health information is possible even during periods of extreme violence. Our results need further verification and should lead to changes to reduce non-combatant deaths from air strikes.

Published online October 29,2004


a. Center for International Emergency Disaster and Refugee Studies, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA
b. Department of Community Medicine, College of Medicine, Al-Mustansiriya University, Baghdad, Iraq
c. School of Nursing, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

Corresponding Author InformationCorrespondence to: Dr Les Roberts

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