LONDON (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in violence since the U.S.-led invasion last year, American public health experts have calculated in a report that estimates there were 100,000 "excess deaths" in 18 months.
The rise in the death rate was mainly due to violence and much of it was caused by U.S. air strikes on towns and cities.
"Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100,000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq," said Les Roberts of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in a report published online by The Lancet medical journal.
"The use of air power in areas with lots of civilians appears to be killing a lot of women and children," Roberts told Reuters.
Mortality was already high in Iraq before the war because of United Nations sanctions blocking food and medical imports but the researchers described what they found as shocking.
The new figures are based on surveys done by the researchers in Iraq in September 2004. They compared Iraqi deaths during 14.6 months before the invasion in March 2003 and the 17.8 months after it by conducting household surveys in randomly selected neighborhoods.
Previous estimates based on think tank and media sources put the Iraqi civilian death toll at up to 16,053 and military fatalities as high as 6,370.
By comparison about 849 U.S. military were killed in combat or attacks and another 258 died in accidents or incidents not related to fighting, according to the Pentagon.
The researchers blamed air strikes for many of the deaths.
"What we have evidence of is the use of air power in populated urban areas and the bad consequences of it," Roberts said.
The researchers did 33 cluster surveys of 30 households each, recording the date, circumstances and cause of deaths.
They found that the risk of death from violence in the period after the invasion was 58 times higher than before the war.
Before the war the major causes of death were heart attacks, chronic disorders and accidents. That changed after the war.
Two-thirds of violent deaths in the study were reported in Falluja, the insurgent held city 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad which had been repeatedly hit by U.S. air strikes.
It seems Americas precision munitions ain't as precise as advertised...