Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Violence and Excess Mortality in Iraq

Yes, yes, I know – shouldn’t all mortality be excess? No – this refers to the mortality rates that the invasion/occupation hath wrought, above and beyond the ‘ordinary’ rates of mortality in Iraq. The New England Journal of Medicine is sporting two papers on the subject: Violence-Related Mortality in Iraq from 2002 to 2006, by the Iraq Family Health Survey Study Group; and Estimating Excess Mortality in Post-Invasion Iraq, by Browstein, Catherine A. and John S.

Mortality in Iraq by cause, from the Iraq Family Health Survey Study Group (click for larger version):

NEJM pic

It’s Iraq: it’s not suprising to see mortality escalate – but, honestly, Road Accidents and Unintentional? Surely that’s a bit much.

Excess mortality (per 100,000 population), same:

NEJM pic

The Iraq Family Health Study Group are fairly open about their measurement issues (recall bias is always a problem in household surveys, with or without holistically-debilitating armed conflicts). The Brownstein and Brownstein paper is survey methodological, and says much the same:

There is no set formula for accurately tallying deaths from humanitarian crises. When a population becomes destabilized, estimation of mortality is likely to be severely challenged. In the case of a sudden traumatic event, such as a natural disaster affecting an otherwise stable population, health and human service agencies, though compromised, may well be able to facilitate an accurate assessment of deaths through the use of prospective registries of vital events.

In the event of a military invasion and ongoing war, however, the likelihood of obtaining good demographic data plummets. A death registry is unlikely to be developed or maintained, and as conditions deteriorate, it may become increasingly unlikely that bodies can be counted at all. In Iraq, there is also a strong cultural imperative that bodies be put to rest quickly, which may affect the ability to arrive at accurate estimates.

Although sentinel populations are commonly monitored to rapidly estimate mortality in developing countries when a registry is not available, the impossibility of finding reliably representative populations in countries engaged in armed conflict and the absence of an accurate population count make it difficult to extrapolate from the rates at sentinel sites to produce reliable national estimates.

They – and the IFHS – discuss the clear variation in mortality estimates between this article, the numbers from the Iraq Body Count people and the widely-publicised results from the paper Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey (Burnham G, Lafta R, Doocy S, Roberts L. Lancet 2006;368:1421-1428). Wikipedia too has an excellent page concerning the Lancet mortality studies.

Ultimately the problem won’t go away – this section, from the Brownstein’s paper, is brilliant:

Under the current conditions in Iraq, it is difficult to envision a study that would not have substantial limitations. The circumstances that are required to produce high-quality public health statistics contrast starkly with those under which the IFHS study group worked. Indeed, it must be mentioned that one of the authors of the survey was shot and killed on his way to work

It’s certainly worth having more studies. More information is always going to help stabilise estimates in the face of such uncertainty as this.

Violence in Iraq, too

Statistical update on the previous Iraqi fatalities post.

According to figures released Monday by the Iraqi government, 16,232 civilians, 432 soldiers and about 1,300 Iraqi policeman died in 2007. The previous year, according to the figures compiled by the health, defense and interior ministries, 12,371 civilians, 603 soldiers and 1,224 policeman were killed.

The government’s figures were roughly in line with a count kept by The Associated Press, which found that 18,610 Iraqis were killed in 2007. In 2006, the only other full year an AP count has been tallied, 13,813 died.

Bollocks. Of course, I’m left-wing: according to the freaks that sent us to Iraq, I love the body-count (three cheers for those people getting jobs at the New York Times. Formerly known as the Newspaper Of Record. Now, any dead fish with any self-respect at all would reject it).

So, Iraqi civilians and police fatalities up for the year, troop fatalities down. Domestically, I would expect this one to be called a win. To be fair, and this was the same caveat I entered last time, also: the numbers do appear to be trending downwards (weakly – bear in mind we don’t have much with which to work. I wouldn’t start insisting things like surges are or are not working):

Click for larger versions. All the data comes from

icas US

icas Iraqi Civ

icas civilians

It is a trend matched in the unconscionably forgotten theatre of this foolish also, Operation Enduring Freedom. Or enduring something, at any rate.

i casOEF

They ( also have a neat series of retrospectives. I shall be interested to see the next one.

Iraqi dividends

First, a welcome to the very strange spike in people viewing this post (I believe all they’re interested in is the map of the Underground – go figure).

Second, Iraq: delivering oil. Finally.

Iraq’s oil exports shot up in the last quarter of 2007 and the ministry in charge of production forecast on Wednesday that it will reach 3 million barrels per day by the end of the year.

Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said Iraq’s average production was 2.4 million barrels per day in November, nearly a half million more than the post-2003 average. Exports stood at around 1.9 million barrels per day, sold at an average price of $83.87 per barrel.

“The ministry’s ambition is to increase the production for more 3 million bpd by the end of 2008 and to pass the national oil law which will enable us to draw foreign investment to our oil resources,” Jihad told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.


Iraq’s political factions last February drafted the first version of a bill to regulate the country’s oil industry in an effort to share its revenues among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities.

But the effort bogged down in parliament, mostly over delicate power sharing issues involving the central government in Iraq. The Kurds, for example, want a greater say in managing oil fields in their self-ruled area of the north.

Sunni Arabs fear that they will be left out of oil profits as the provinces where they are dominant have few proven reserves. Most of Iraq’s oil reserves are in the Kurdish north and the largely Shiite south

In August, Iraq’s semiautonomous regional government of Kurdistan passed its own oil law and signed more than a dozen production-sharing contracts with international oil companies. The Oil Ministry has said it considers these deals to be illegal and has threatened to blacklist the foreign companies that are involved.

I’m not so sure that a “semiautonomous regional government of Kurdistan” will along with the idea that the Oil Ministry gets to call its contracts illegal, while putting out those of its own.

Now, to those numbers: Of the 2.4m bpd being produced in Iraq, 80% is being exported. If they’re talking about exporting 3m pbd, that would mean a nearly-60% increase in production – while the government cannot seem to get adequate legislation in place to manage reserves or revenues.

Broadening our vision, somewhat: Iraqi oil is supposed to have been the dividend of invasion. Iraq itself is supposed (in the passive sense) to be one of the two potential sites of any remaining oil superfields (I believe Siberia is the other). If we can stabilise that sort of production, we’d be laughing (currently 3m bpd is less than 5% of total world production). In the meantime:

The 2005 oil peak remains thus (from The Oil Drum’s Oilwatch Monthly):

OWM chart 4 pic

Unconventional production is going along, nicely. Nothing like the same level, though.

owm chart 5 pic

OPEC still pushes the trend, with non-OPEC production looking (a) random, and (b) like it might be declining in the last couple of years.

own chart 6 pic

owm chart 8

More locally of interest, gasoline stocks in the US are a lot like those elsewhere – low. Meaning that the idea that Iraqi oil may somehow keep prices down at the bowser simply should not form.

owm chart 17 pic

According to a the OPEC Review, in fact, demand may just not be met, next year (you can find the article, Theoretical limits of OPEC Members’ oil production, if your university has access).

So not much slack, possibly, for 2008. Petrol prices may just have to stay high (your food prices, too. Your real incomes and house prices? Not so much). If real demand crunches hit during likely-recession-heavy 2008, hell, Iraq’s production may not even register (or it may become hugely politically sensitive, domestically and internationally).

Inflation in Iraq

Thanks to the blog Opit (whom I believe has new digs over at Opera) for this one – he posted it in response to the post about malnutrition in Africa.

From Yahoo, originally from the Inter-Press news service (who also have article running at the moment that details 2007 being the worst year yet for Iraq):

The Iraqi government announcement that monthly food rations will be cut by half has left many Iraqis asking how they can survive.

The government also wants to reduce the number of people depending on the rationing system by five million by June 2008.

the U.S.-backed Iraqi government has announced it will halve the essential items in the ration because of “insufficient funds and spiralling inflation.”

The cuts, which are to be introduced in the beginning of 2008, have drawn widespread criticism. The Iraqi government is unable to supply the rations with several billion dollars at its disposal, whereas Saddam Hussein was able to maintain the programme with less than a billion dollars.

“In 2007, we asked for 3.2 billion dollars for rationing basic foodstuffs,” Mohammed Hanoun, Iraq’s chief of staff for the ministry of trade told al-Jazeera. “But since the prices of imported foodstuff doubled in the past year, we requested 7.2 billion dollars for this year. That request was denied.”

The trade ministry is now preparing to slash the list of subsidised items by half to five basic food items, “namely flour, sugar, rice, oil, and infant milk,” Hanoun said.

The imminent move will affect nearly 10 million people who depend on the rationing system. But it has already caused outrage in Baquba, 40 km northeast of Baghdad.

“The monthly food ration was the only help from the government,” local grocer Ibrahim al-Ageely told IPS. “It was of great benefit for the families. The food ration consisted of two kilos of rice, sugar, soap, tea, detergent, wheat flour, lentils, chick-peas, and other items for every individual.”

Another grocer said the food ration was the “life of all Iraqis; every month, Iraqis wait in queues to receive their food rations.”

According to an Oxfam International report released in July this year, “60 percent (of Iraqis) currently have access to rations through the government-run Public Distribution System (PDS), down from 96 percent in 2004.”

Bugger. I think I’ve made this point with regard to the Chinese government, previously: people will accept non/un/anti-democratic (or otherwise dysfunctional) government, provided that they can at least eat, live in a house, pursue their own happiness as best they can. Take that away, and people start wondering, openly, why you’re the government. In the backs of our minds, we never properly forget that we invented government.

Which would make it suck for the Iraq government. Like any other government, they’re dealing with inflation that is predominantly exogenous – they can only buy what they can afford with the money they had. The fact that Hussein managed to feed people (under wildly different circumstances) will also not help (no, all the shit Hussein also did to them does no matter, because what you and I think is irrelevant to a man who can’t feed his family. That’s just the way it is, and you’re welcome to call a jobless man with hungry children stupid and irrational and ungrateful. In fact, I dare you).

I’d also be interested to see how the US responds to this, both from their administration responsibility perspective (increase aid? Ask for more foreign support? We already saw Africa’s experience with inflation, yesterday), and from the perspective of military occupation (since this problem will also, to some extent (a) affect the costs of the US mission in Iraq, and (b) affect the angriness of the people faced by the US mission in Iraq. Especially if Iraqis decide to blame that mission for the inflation).

Hardships increase in isolated Gaza

According to the United Nations, an average of 74 truckloads of goods a day entered Gaza in October, down from 253 truckloads a day in April. The consequences have meant a shrinking economy coupled with a severe increase in prices even for basic foodstuffs like flour, cooking oil and chicken.The average income of nonrefugees in Gaza has dropped 22 percent since June and 70 percent of them are now existing on less than $1.20 a day, compared with 55 percent in June, according to the World Food Program.Since June, wheat prices have increased 40 percent, bread prices 20 percent and rice 15 percent. But because of the inability to export, the prices of vegetables have fallen 30 percent or more, further undermining the agricultural sector.

This is not to suggest the state of Israel is inherently at fault (full disclosure: I used to ‘be’ a part of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign – I lost interest after little of the plight of women made general discussions. I’m in favour of everyone going back to the 1967 Green Line – including returning Palestinian land and water to them. If anyone thinks the security ‘fence’ has any other purpose, they’re crazy). Hamas is a hostile presence. Perhaps legitimately, perhaps not. This is like saying the drug dealers/runners in urban slums have a legitimate complaint against the government – but they’re still working against the progress of their community, in the long run.

Ghassan Matar, 25, is a Fulbright scholar who has had to delay his studies in business information systems at Central Michigan University. “No such field of studies exists in Gaza,” he said. “My dream is to focus on outsourcing in software, so I can invest in Gaza’s human resources. Such a field can flourish even if the crossings are closed.”

But Matar, who was supposed to start school Aug. 27, is stuck in Gaza. The university, he said, has agreed to let him begin in January. “I’m afraid to lose this chance,” he said. “I’ve worked two years to get this scholarship.” He describes himself as apolitical. “I blame all the parties,” he said.

The issue of the students has embarrassed the Israeli government, which is facing lawsuits and bad publicity for denying ordinary Gazans the chance to study in the West.

His attitude is about correct. Water, land, religion – nothing can make people this irrational, for this long (to my mind, born and raised white in Australia – what would I know? I never even went hungry until I was a student, living on my own).

With closed borders, there is an interesting quirk to this inflation: there are no external markets for domestically-produced Palestinian goods, depreciating their prices; there are no domestically-produced substitutes for goods imported from/via Israel, inflating their prices considerably. Meanwhile, it seems Hamas isn’t so populist, after all:

… the problems of the students can seem minor compared to other restrictions. Marwan Sawafiri, 40, who runs the Sawafiri for Chicken shop in Gaza, said the price of chicken has risen about 40 percent since the end of Ramadan in mid-October, when Israel stopped allowing special shipments for the holiday.

Gazans raise chickens, he said. But the chickens are hatched from fertilized eggs imported from Israel and fed with Israeli chicken feed. “Now we get many fewer imports, so the prices go up,” he said.

Coca-Cola and packaged fruit juice have disappeared from shops, and a printer cartridge costs $60. Even the price of flour, considered a necessity by Israel, has gone up 40 percent, said Muhammad Hassouna, 30, who runs his family’s grocery.

Hamad Dahdar, 25, the chief butcher at a nearly empty meat shop, has been told that he can work only 20 days a month, to save other jobs. His income has gone down by a third, to $200 a month, “and you can see, we’re just standing around,” he said.

Stewing beef has gone up a third in price, “and people who once bought a kilo buy only a half,” he said. Beef and lamb are also imported through Israel and quantities are down. But taxes are not. The Hamas administration in Gaza, cut off by the Fatah-appointed government in Ramallah, is taxing imports, from cigarettes to beef. “Now we have two governments,” Dahdar said. “And both of them want to collect taxes.”

I would say that the problems of the students is, long-term, one of the greatest. Without advances in human capital, Palestine isn’t going anywhere. That said, yes – there needs to be a Palestine and Palestinians around, when they graduate. These days, it’s hard to see.

At issue is Government (big-G). Israel is not meeting its international obligations as a military occupier: the wall, the water, the Green Line, etc. This is their crime. However, even back through Arafat, our crime, as that “international”, has been to pretend that the Palestinian Authority had any sort of capability when it came to civil administration. I honestly believe Palestine will not improve in any real sense until a Kosovo-like solution is imposed.

Frankly, I wouldn’t even mind if the Israeli government moved in (I’d prefer peacekeepers and, again, whether or not I mind is hardly the point. I don’t pretend it should be), as long as they did it properly and according to civic obligations of any modern government to the people who either elected it or fell before it. Neither Hamas nor Fatah have ever met that obligation, either, and don’t look like doing so anytime soon.

Looking at Palestine as an economy, which (a) we should, but (b) I will, being an economist, the problem is textbook, in terms of the first principles for long-run economic growth: establishing stable civil administration (not, necessarily, government), establishing the rule of law and protection of private property (getting back to land, water and the wall), investing in human capital (health and education) and social capital (water, electricity, community) – none of these are being undertaken, but no economy moves without them.

If Fatah or Hamas cannot or will not do it, Israel should. If Israel cannot or will not, the rest of us should. Palestinian (and Israeli! Please do not think I’m incognisant of the two ways of this horrible street) people are just people: they want peace. They want their families, they want jobs and schools and for their children to do better in life than they did. They want no taxation without representation. I’m sure they’d prefer to be governed by their own people, but they probably want all those other things first, and they want them at least as much as we wanted them, back when we got them (more easily, I might add – we never had a sea of AK-47s making things hot).

The same goes for many other countries, all over the globe, and that’s the problem. We could do it, easily (although our performance as military occupiers might make one, rightly, hesitate). We’d just have to, probably, and certainly in the near-term, make do with less ourselves. And, then, what would our media and politicians make their money off?