Iraq: the Human Cost


Collecting the Data

The mortality survey was a partnership between American and Iraqi academics with the field data collected by teams of male and female Iraqi physicians. To protect their safety, they are not identified in this report. Pollsters and others trying to collect information in Iraq have been threatened, mistreated, and even killed. After the 2004 Iraq survey of deaths, considerable time was spent designing the followon study that would have the maximum precision while minimizing risk to survey teams. This survey— the subject of this report—was completed without deaths or injuries to the survey teams.

The tasks of going out every day to many different locations in the country faced numerous perils. Due to administrative delays at the sponsors’ universities, the survey did not begin until late spring, and the often-oppressive heat sometimes reached 55° Celsius (130° F.) in the shade.

Getting to the survey sites was difficult. U.S. checkpoints were particularly challenging, due to the rules of engagement, suspicion, and the doctors’ mission. Iraqi checkpoints were less problematic, but militias and political parties, as well as criminals, all posed significant dangers. The militias, says the survey team leader, “are unpredictable, they are very smooth when they know that we are from ‘their side.’ Generally, they didn’t threat our lives. They stopped us three times [in different regions]. In the first, they kept us for a few hours for checking, in the second they took us to their commander, and the third time they did not allow us to go, so we turned back.” The criminal gangs, he says, are “miscellaneous groups with different visions and goals. They may kill for any reason: money, revenge, and even for fun.”

Once in the clusters, the teams faced suspicion initially, especially at the first house selected in the random process. Lengthy explanations of the purposes of the survey—and that it would help the Iraqi people—were necessary to allay fears. In some areas, people were more welcoming, and all but a very few of the entire sample were eventually very cooperative.

Returning from the clusters was every bit as perilous as going to them, and the teams were exposed to this danger constantly.

American and Iraqi team members met twice across the border in Jordan, first to plan the survey and later to analyze the findings. The Johns Hopkins members of the research team are in awe of the courage and persistence of our Iraqi colleagues.