Nearly half a million Iraqis have died as a result of the war in their country, according to the findings of a new study. An estimated 461,000 Iraqis died between March 2003 and June 2011 as a direct or indirect result of the conflict, a new study published in journal PLOS Medicine has shown.
An editors' summary of the research said more than two years past the end of the period covered by the study the conflict in the country was "far from over" and continues to claim lives at "alarming rates".
Most of the deaths in the study were attributable to violence but around a third were as a result of indirect war-related events such as failures in health care systems and collapses in crucial supply networks and sanitation.
Gunshots were the cause of 62% of violent deaths, with car bombs accounting for 12% and other explosions at 9%. Heart conditions were the lead cause of non-violent deaths, according to the findings.
The figures were drawn up by a team of researchers from Iraq and the US, led by Amy Hagopian, of the University of Washington, after a survey of 2,000 households in Iraq between May and July 2011. Every household head was asked about births and deaths since 2001 and all household adults were also asked about mortality among their siblings.
The study calculated that there was a more than 50% higher crude death rate in the period between March 1, 2003 and June 30, 2011 than in the 26-month period preceding the war, resulting in 405,000 "excess" deaths. A further 56,000 deaths were missed, the study estimated, as a result of migration out of the country.
British troops joined the US invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein in March 2003. Combat operations by UK troops ended in 2009 with the US ending combat operations the following year.
The editors' summary said the Iraqi death toll figures represented the most up-to-date estimates. But it said the estimates were associated with "substantial difficulties" including the small representative sample of households.
Respondents were asked to recall events which could have happened up to a decade earlier, which could lead to inaccuracies. The researchers also had to rely on outdated census figures for their overall population figures, they noted.
"Based on the statistical methods, the researchers are 95% confident that the true number of excess deaths lies between 48,000 and 751,000 - a large range," the summary said. "More than two years past the end of the period covered in this study, the conflict in Iraq is far from over and continues to cost lives at alarming rates."
The death toll estimate is the first to be issued since 2006. Previous estimates covered different periods and came up with widely differing results.
Claims made in 2006 that 655,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the conflict were described as "nowhere near accurate" by the then Labour Government. US researchers came up with the figure - many times higher than other estimates - based on interviews with more than 1,800 households.