7/26/03
So What About Rumsfeld's Claim About the Murder Rates in Washington, DC and Baghdad?

A 6/26 op-ed of mine referenced Rumsfeld's statement that Baghdad's murder rate (despite still mopping up after a war and civilians being able to own high power guns) is greater than Washington, DC's. The sentence in my piece that seems to upset people is that:

"Yet, despite Iraqis owning machine guns and the country still not under control, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed out that Baghdad is experiencing fewer murders than Washington, D.C., where handguns are banned. "

Other web sites and various e-mails have claimed in typical diplomatic language that "JOHN LOTT LIES AGAIN". Yet, Rumsfeld's statement and logic seems extremely clear;

"'You've got to remember that if Washington, D.C., were the size of Baghdad, we would be having something like 215 murders a month,' Rumsfeld said. 'There's going to be violence in a big city.' "

Baghdad is a city with a population some 8.5 times greater than Washington. While it might be difficult to keep track of the number of property crimes or robberies these days in Iraq, presumably Rumsfeld knows whether the number of murders is greater or less than 200 a month. It is certainly not clear why Rumsfeld would make the claim that he did if he didn't have this information. As an aside, given that during 2001 Washington had 261 murders, my math is a little different from Rumsfeld's (185=(261/12)*8.5), but the numbers are of a similar order of magnitude and the point is the same.

Finally, an e-mail suggests that Rumsfeld was referring to the military deaths of our soldiers. I think that is clearly false when one reads Rumsfeld's quote.

UPDATE August 12, 2003

An article from the Associated Press is referenced by Wyethwire. The article notes that there were "470 gunshot deaths in July." First, the article mentions that these 470 gunshot deaths are not all murders. The article states:

Iraqis also say American soldiers are part of the problem. Many accuse the soldiers of opening fire randomly when they feel threatened.

War casualties are not murders. While the bodies are in the Baghdad morgue, the story also doesn't make clear where the deaths occurred. It just says that the Baghdad morgue handled that many bodies.

Two other points should be made. The article notes that "Saddam Hussein released many criminals from prison just before the war," though I think that this is an understatement for Baghdad where I think the jails were essentially emptied. Finally, just as an aside in defense of Rumsfeld's accuracy, his statement was made in the beginning of June and presumably would have

11/10/03
WSJ data indicates that Rumsfeld was correct

Early this year there was quite a debate about Rumsfeld and myself discussing the relatively low murder rate in Baghdad. My quoting Rumsfeld

"Yet, despite Iraqis owning machine guns and the country still not under control, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed out that Baghdad is experiencing fewer murders than Washington, D.C., where handguns are banned"

apparently outraged many people. Well, it turns out that Rumsfeld was correct. The Wall Street Journal reports that the murder rates this year were as follows: July, 92; August, 75; September, 54; and October, 24. As I pointed out,

"Baghdad is a city with a population some 8.5 times greater than Washington. While it might be difficult to keep track of the number of property crimes or robberies these days in Iraq, presumably Rumsfeld knows whether the number of murders is greater or less than 200 a month. It is certainly not clear why Rumsfeld would make the claim that he did if he didn't have this information. As an aside, given that during 2001 Washington had 261 murders, my math is a little different from Rumsfeld's (185=(261/12)*8.5), but the numbers are of a similar order of magnitude and the point is the same."

Only in July does the number of murders in Baghdad even approach half the rate found in Washington, DC.

Additional discussions of this issue can be found here

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