Mike Spagat and Neil Johnson hope they have found a significant flaw in the 650,000 number. That would be good news:
The Blog | David Berreby: Did President Bush Actually get Something Right About the Death Toll in Iraq? | The Huffington Post: Johnson and his collaborator Michael Spagat, an economist at the University of London, Royal Holloway, believe they have found just such a fatal flaw -- an error that stems from mistakenly assuming that war deaths work like deaths from illness. It seems all the households surveyed by the Lancet authors were on main roads or at intersections of smaller streets with major arteries. It does not take a detailed knowledge of warfare to imagine how households in those locations would be more likely to report car bombings, market-place explosions, and attacks on vehicles...
And Riverbend--sitting in the middle of the situation--finds the 650,000 number very credible indeed:
Baghdad Burning: For American politicians and military personnel, playing dumb and talking about numbers of bodies in morgues and official statistics, etc, seems to be the latest tactic. But as any Iraqi knows, not every death is being reported. As for getting reliable numbers from the Ministry of Health or any other official Iraqi institution, that's about as probable as getting a coherent, grammatically correct sentence from George Bush--especially after the ministry was banned from giving out correct mortality numbers.
So far, the only Iraqis I know pretending this number is outrageous are either out-of-touch Iraqis abroad who supported the war, or Iraqis inside of the country who are directly benefiting from the occupation ($) and likely living in the Green Zone. The chaos and lack of proper facilities is resulting in people being buried without a trip to the morgue or the hospital. During American military attacks on cities like Samarra and Fallujah, victims were buried in their gardens or in mass graves in football fields. Or has that been forgotten already?
We literally do not know a single Iraqi family that has not seen the violent death of a first or second-degree relative these last three years. Abductions, militias, sectarian violence, revenge killings, assassinations, car-bombs, suicide bombers, American military strikes, Iraqi military raids, death squads, extremists, armed robberies, executions, detentions, secret prisons, torture, mysterious weapons -- with so many different ways to die, is the number so far fetched?
There are Iraqi women who have not shed their black mourning robes since 2003 because each time the end of the proper mourning period comes around, some other relative dies and the countdown begins once again.