The Methods described here go into greater detail, but remain consistent with, the original Iraq Body Count Methodology published in 2003, and reflect the experience IBC has gained over the intervening years.
Note that these Methods apply only to IBC’s formal output, and not to other material such as the Recent Events interim updates to the database, or to comment pieces – except where these are directly informed by, or reference, the formal work.
2. Data sources
2.1 News media
IBC’s main sources are information gathering and publishing agencies, principally the commercial news media who provide web access to their reports. A complete list of media sources may be browsed and is periodically updated as new sources are added to the list.
Media sources included in the IBC list are newsgathering organisations producing original material under professional editorial control. The project collects and analyses reports written or published in the English language, though not always originating in it. Coverage of non English-language reports is currently limited to those that are available from proficient translators, as for instance provided in reports from the foreign-language monitoring units of Middle East media, or the major Iraqi media.
The IBC project is heavily reliant on the professional rigour of the press and media organisations that it monitors. It is assumed that any agency that has attained a respected international status operates its own veracity checks before publishing stories (including from eye-witness and confidential sources). IBC is not reliant on any single agency for its data collection, and is therefore largely unaffected by vagaries in reporting by any one organisation. An independent, not-for-profit project, IBC operates across commercial boundaries: no data source is considered proprietary or given preference over others.
Furthermore, the relatively uncomplicated nature of the essential data collected by IBC (where, when, how many) reduces the need for interpretation beyond the raw data, and thus reduces the risk of misinterpretation. One significant exception is the question of combatant/civilian status, whose uncertainty is responsible for a large part of the difference between the lower and higher number given in the IBC range – see 3.2 and 3.3 below)
2.2 NGOs and “primary” sources
Aside from the relatively few incidents directly witnessed by reporters, almost all data in the IBC database is derived from information acquired by journalists from ‘primary’ human sources, including injured survivors, family members, and other eyewitnesses, as well as emergency department medics, local police, and a variety of other officials.
While IBC includes specific information from non-political NGOs in Iraq such as the Iraqi Red Crescent, this is usually also reported in the news media. Only in the rare cases where such information has, to our knowledge, not been relayed by the media, has IBC obtained it directly from the NGOs concerned.
2.3 Official cumulative figures
Many civilian deaths from violence are not relayed as distinct incidents, or even as bodies being discovered at a particular location and time, but are presented as cumulative totals released by officials. Again, these are generally obtained by the media and relayed by them, either in reporting official statements or “off-the-record” information from their contacts.
A significant proportion of the deaths recorded or corroborated by IBC have come from cumulative totals reported by official Iraqi sources, in particular the Medico-Legal Institutes (morgues) and, for corroboration purposes, the Ministry of Health. IBC only uses such data when it is possible to assign some date and location specificity to published data (i.e., at least within a specified timeframe and governorate). This allows IBC to apply procedures for combining cumulative reports with each other and with date-and-location-specific reports in a way that avoids double or triple counting. These procedures, while logical and transparent, are of some complexity, and require tailoring to each new situation. These procedures are published to accompany the associated database entries they affect.