Crikey commentators spilt their soy lattes as they raced to write up the 2006 John Hopkins University report in the Lancet that estimated more than 600,000 violent deaths in Iraq since the US invasion of March 2003.

A new study conducted by the World Health Organization and the Iraq Health Ministry published in The New England Journal of Medicine, puts the estimated death count for the same period at 151,000 – about a quarter of the John Hopkins figures.

Ties Boerma from the WHO has told US National Public Radio that researchers for the Hopkins study visited far fewer neighborhoods and villages, 47 so-called clusters compared to the WHO’s 1,000 clusters.

“Because we are talking about a survey that is much larger, we have a little bit more confidence in that method than in a very small cluster survey,” says Boerma.