Filed at 9:48 a.m. ET
LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair's office rejected as inaccurate on Thursday a study that found about 655,000 Iraqis had died due to the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion and later violence.
``The ... figure is an order of magnitude higher than any other figure. It's not one we believe to be anywhere near accurate and that is not in any way to downplay the seriousness of the security situation in Iraq,'' Blair's spokesman said.
On Wednesday, President Bush said the findings of the study, published in medical journal The Lancet, were not credible. The Iraqi government, which puts the total Iraqi death toll since the war started at 40,000, also called the report unbelievable.
Blair was Bush's closest ally during the Iraq war and Britain still has about 7,200 troops in Iraq.
U.S. and Iraqi researchers used household interviews rather than body counts to gauge how many more Iraqis have died due to the 3 1/2-year-old war than died annually before it.
Researchers surveyed 1,849 households, including 12,801 household members, in 47 randomly selected sites across Iraq.
``The problem with this is they're using an extrapolation technique from a relatively small sample from an area of Iraq which isn't representative of the country as a whole,'' Blair's spokesman said.
``We have questioned that technique right from the beginning and we continue to do so,'' he added.
The researchers said the same survey methods were used to measure mortality in other conflict areas such as Congo, Kosovo and Sudan.
Researcher Gilbert Burnham of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland defended the study's methodology on Wednesday and described the difficulty of gathering data in wartime.
Burnham said about 31 percent of households attributed the death of their household member to coalition forces.
Blair's spokesman said deaths in Iraq were mainly being caused by ``terrorists,'' not by the Iraqi government or foreign forces there. He declined to give any British estimate of Iraqi deaths, saying it was an issue for the Iraqi government.