2012 begins, but does not complete, the tenth year since the invasion of Iraq by US/UK-led military forces in March 2003. In March 2013 IBC will provide an overview of the known death toll covering the invasion and the first full decade of its aftermath. The analysis on this page focuses on the calendar year 2012 and whether it showed significant signs of change.
This page was last updated on 21 May 2013 and includes data to 30 December 2012.
Note 1 The analysis on this page has been produced shortly before the end of 2012, and at the date of first publication (1 Jan 2013) is missing the final two weeks of the year. For provisional data up to the last 48 hours see Recent Events.
Figures displayed in blue on this page will be automatically updated from the IBC database as the remaining days are added.
Iraqi deaths from violence in 2012
Analysis of the year’s death toll recorded by Iraq Body Count (IBC)
First published 1 Jan 2013
Civilian deaths in 2012 compared to recent years
During 2012 Iraq Body Count (IBC) recorded 4,573 civilian deaths from violence. Note 1 Evidence of these deaths was extracted from some 7,000 distinct reports collected from more than 80 sources covering 2,061 incidents, each of which is described and listed on the IBC website to form a verifiable documentary record.
The 2012 figures bring the number of civilian deaths recorded by IBC since March 2003 to between 111,656 and 122,013. (For some figures that incorporate evidence on combatant deaths, updated for 2012, see the 'Overall violent deaths' section below).
We first noted in our 2009 analysis that our six-monthly data for that year ‘may indicate that the situation is no longer improving’, as it had done dramatically in comparison to the height of sustained violence in 2006-2008. This was borne out by data for 2010 and then 2011, during which years the levels of violence, as measured in the number of civilians killed annually, were almost identical.2
2012 marks the first year since 2009 where the death toll for the year has increased (up from 4,147 in 2011), but 2012 itself has been marked by contrasts. While it seems December will be the least violent month in the last two years, June was the most violent in three years, so the improvements in the second half of the year are from that higher level of violence. It is premature to predict whether the record low levels of violence in the last quarter of the year will be sustained. Overall, 2012 has been more consistent with an entrenched conflict than with any transformation in the security situation for Iraqis in the first year since the formal withdrawal of US troops.
In sum the latest evidence suggests that the country remains in a state of low-level war little changed since early 2009, with a “background” level of everyday armed violence punctuated by occasional larger-scale attacks designed to kill many people at once.
Where the violence is most concentrated
Violence in Iraq remains unevenly distributed, with the majority of incidents and civilian deaths occurring in provinces (also known as governorates) in the central regions of the country. In 2012 43% of deaths occurred in just two provinces: Baghdad and Ninewa (capital city: Mosul).
However, the absolute numbers of deaths alone does not indicate where the violence is most concentrated, as some provinces have much larger populations than others. The table below is sorted by risk of violent death, in 2012, from highest to lowest. This more clearly shows that in 2012 people in Diyala, Salah al-Din and Anbar were 2-2½ times more likely to suffer a violent death than in Baghdad.
3 Iraq's Central Organization for Statistics and Information Technology's Estimated population for the year 2011.
|Province||Deaths in 2012||per 100,000||Population 3||Province capital|
The targeting of police
4 Iraq's police forces include some that in all but name are combat units. IBC includes only ordinary police in its civilian deaths database, except for any commandos or similar personnel summarily executed after being captured, at which point they (like soldiers) become "protected persons" under the laws of war.
While Iraqi police have always been targeted by armed opposition groups (and represent the single largest professional demographic recorded in the IBC database), a particularly notable feature of recent years has been the increasing proportion that they represent of all deaths, especially in relation to 2008 and earlier. 2012 saw both an increase in the absolute number of police killed in comparison to 2011 (724 vs 939 in 2012), and an increase in their proportion of all deaths (17.5% of deaths in 2011 vs 20.5% in 2012). 4
The scale and nature of deadly incidents
During the height of sectarian violence in the years from 2006-2007, most deaths were from small arms fire, often in targeted killings. Such killings continue: in 2012 there were 964 reported incidents involving deadly shootings, or cases of bodies found shot dead, with a death toll of 1,616. Of these deaths, 667 were of a single individual (and many of the others family members, bodyguards or other bystanders in the vicinity of the target).
5 IBC only records wounded were there was at least one fatality.
6 The varying ratio of killed to wounded, depending on the weapons used, is widely regarded as an important measure of the impact of weapons. Mortality associated with use of weapons… literature review
Since mid-2008 the majority of deaths have been caused by explosives which generally result in a higher death toll per incident and, on average, leave 3 wounded for every person killed. 56
In 2012 960 bombings in Iraq killed 2,812 civilians and left another 7,539 wounded. This equates to around 18 bombings claiming 54 civilian lives and wounding 145 others every week. The dozen largest-scale bombings killed over 400 and wounded more than 1,000.7
Comparison to Iraqi ministries’ figures
As in previous years, monthly figures released by Iraqi ministries are significantly lower than the publicly-sourced data used by IBC, a discrepancy we have been drawing attention to since these official figures became available.8 For instance IBC’s total for civilian (not including police) deaths between Jan-November 2012 is 3,411, against the ministries figure of 1,233. This year the discrepancy appears to have grown wider than ever (see graph below), and others have also drawn attention to the low official 2012 figures, including news agencies who compile their own data and could compare it to the government’s.9
When comparing differing published figures for Iraq it is important to note that on its public database IBC transparently lists the violent incidents from which it derives its data, along with the original publishing sources for each entry.10 Progress in understanding differences between IBC and others requires looking beyond such “competing totals” and examining what lies beneath them: that is, identifying which specific incidents are included in each total. Until Iraqi ministries also publish the underlying data for their totals in a similarly disaggregated, incident-by-incident fashion, it will remain impossible for third parties to meaningfully investigate and understand these differences (which is one reason why we have also been calling for such open publication by official sources).11
Update on overall deaths including civilians, combatants and foreign forces
12 Incidents added to the IBC database from the Iraq War Logs, as of 31 December 2012
In 2012 IBC added 1,971 deaths from continuing analysis of the 'Iraq War Logs' released by WikiLeaks that cover the period from 2004 through 2009. Since IBC began integrating these records in 2010, they have added a total of 3,334 previously unrecorded civilian deaths to the IBC database.12 Based on our previous analysis13, we estimate that the logs are likely to contain more than 11,000 additional unrecorded civilian deaths, which will be added to the IBC database as the work proceeds.
In addition to civilian deaths, the war logs also contain detailed records of combatant deaths during 2004-2009, including US and allied military forces, Iraqi army and security forces, and 'insurgents' or anti-Coalition forces. These records, in combination with other data on combatant deaths during 2003, and 2010-2012, have allowed IBC to provide a running total of violent deaths among all victim categories, civilian or combatant. As of 31 December 2012, this combination of data provides the following totals:14
14 For a discussion of the following table, including data sources, see the Iraq War Logs, section titled 'Total deaths 2003-2010' Technical appendix.
15 Minimum number of "Total observed and reported Iraqi combatant fatalities" during the 2003 invasion. Source
16 Numbers for insurgents/soldiers have been updated for Nov 2010-2012 from Iraqi Ministry figures as compiled by AFP or reported by other news outlets.
|Iraq Body Count 2003-2012||122,013|
|Iraq War Logs new 'Civilian' and comparable 'Host Nation' remaining 2004-2009 - central estimate||11,780|
|Iraq War Logs ‘Host Nation’ combatant 2004-2009 - central estimate||5,575|
|Iraq War Logs ‘Enemy’ (minus IBC overlaps) 2004-2009 - central estimate||20,499|
|Iraqi combatants killed March-May 200315||4,895|
|Insurgents killed June-December 2003||597|
|Insurgents killed May 2004||652|
|Insurgents & Iraqi soldiers killed March 2009||59|
|Insurgents & Iraqi soldiers killed 2010–201216||2,819|
|US & Coalition military killed 2003–2012||4,804|
IBC data analysis tool
The tool below may be used to perform your own analysis of IBC data. You can create graphs and download their underlying data as a CSV file.
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Note: The pattern of incidents and deaths by gunfire shown in these graphs/tables must be read in light of the fact that many entries are based on data from morgues in 2003-2006 which aggregate many small incidents. Similarly, many deaths during the March-April 2003 invasion phase will only have been recorded in hospital death tolls without revealing whether deaths were from e.g air attacks or gunfire.