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The analysis on this page is being published shortly before the end of 2009, and at the date of first publication (Dec 31) is missing the final two weeks of the year. Figures displayed in blue are dynamic and will be updated from the IBC database as the remaining days are added.

With this analysis IBC is introducing new interactive graphing tools allowing users to create their own trend analyses. We welcome comments to

Civilian deaths from violence in 2009

Analysis of the year’s toll from the Iraq Body Count project

First published Dec 31 2009


This IBC analysis of 2009 trends begins with the same cautionary note that prefaced the largely “surge” focused 2008 report:

…a distinction must be drawn between abstractions represented by varying rates of violence and the reality of that violence for those experiencing it. Every statistic on this page can be traced to a human life violently ended, none of whom are any less a victim for having been killed during a downward trend in violence.


2009 has seen a number of significant improvements in levels of armed and non-state terrorist violence in Iraq. However, even taking into account worsening conditions elsewhere in the world, such violence still afflicts Iraq's population more than any other. Findings are summarised below, with graphs and underlying data available via the 'Show graph' buttons. Show all graphs now

Yearly totals

The annual civilian death toll from violence in 2009 was the lowest since the 2003 invasion, at 5,382 by Dec 31 (2008: 10,286), and had the lowest recorded monthly toll (226 in November). However, for the first time since 2006 there has been no significant within-year decline, and the second half of 2009 saw about as many civilian deaths as the first. This may indicate that the situation is no longer improving. Show graphs

Most violent city

On a per-capita basis, Mosul (799 recorded deaths in an estimated population of 1.8m) has in 2009 become significantly more deadly than Baghdad (est. pop. 6.5m, 1,725 deaths), despite none of the year's largest-scale bombings occurring in Mosul. Additionally, Mosul's absolute number of violent incidents deadly to civilians in 2009 (592) far exceeded Baghdad's (459). Show graphs

Civilian deaths caused by Coalition and Iraqi state forces

Non-combatant Iraqi deaths resulting directly from actions involving US-led coalition forces were dramatically lower than in the preceding year, with a total of 87 reported by Dec 25 (2008: 656): deaths due to air attacks reduced from 365 in 2008 to 1 in 2009 (as of Dec 25). Deaths involving Iraqi forces were down from 587 in 2008 to 123 in 2009.

Of these deaths caused by US-coalition and Iraqi state forces, the number killed in joint actions fell from 120 in 2008 to 16 in 2009; the overall number of civilians killed by state forces (US-coalition, Iraqi, or both) was 1,123 in 2008 and 194 in 2009. Show graph

Anti-occupation forces

1 'Unknown agents' are defined by IBC as: Those who appear to attack civilian targets lacking a clear or unambiguous link to the foreign military presence in Iraq. This may include some overlap with other groups as well as with criminal murders.

'Anti-occupation forces' are identified by IBC when: their targets were either US-led Coalition personnel or Iraqis working for, or in collaboration with, the Coalition forces. Whether the current situation in Iraq is strictly an occupation is irrelevant to this classification: it is sufficient that the anti-occupation forces see themselves as such. See IBC's 2005 Dossier for more (Glossary, p.26, and Killers, pp.10-11).

The difficulty of reliably identifying many of the perpetrator groups behind civilian deaths in Iraq's post-invasion conflict (with the exception of uniformed forces) means that most of the deaths recorded by IBC are assigned to the Unknown agent category. However even from the minority of incidents where perpetrators could be positively identified, it is apparent that 2009's violence profile remains one where “anti-occupation” activity continues to play a central part in the deaths of Iraqi civilians and, most obviously, police or Government-allied targets (police forces members accounting for 1,227 (22.8%) of the deaths recorded by IBC in 2009). 1 Show graphs

Largest-scale bombings

Large-scale bombings killing more than 50 civilians per attack have increased in their severity of impact, claiming 758 lives in 8 attacks during 2009 compared to 534 in 9 attacks during 2008 (most of them in the early part of the year). Show graph

Weapon trends

Magnetic bombs secretly attached to cars have changed from a relatively rare to a common form of assassination (62 killed in 2008, 200 killed in 2009). As generally with attacks targeting individuals, the perpetrators remain largely in IBC's Unknown agent category. Individuals are also the targets of summary executions, often involving torture, whose number fell substantially from 2,380 in 2008 to 290 in 2009. Unlike civilian killings generally, the frequency of executions continued to decline throughout 2009. For trends in other weapons (explosive violence, suicide attacks, gunfire), see interactive graph at foot of page. Show graphs

'Everyday terrorism'

2Closest were Pakistan and Afghanistan (Brookings Institute)

With roughly two explosions deadly to civilians and police every day in 2009 (769 explosions causing 3,126 deaths), Iraq continues to be the non-state terrorism capital of the world, suffering more deaths from such attacks than any other country.2 Show graphs

Official statistics

3 Monthly ministries figures are widely reported but were given in most consistent detail during 2009 by Agence France-Presse.

4 See e.g. CNN and AP.

Official figures released monthly by Iraqi ministries remain consistently lower than IBC's (as in previous years); 3 however, longer-term official figures released in 2009 by the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights show somewhat higher totals than IBC for 2004-6. This indicates that, as expected, a full accounting for the entire period from 2003 is likely to be above, not below, IBC's present count. 4 Official figures are presented in aggregate form,whereas IBC's numbers are obtained from incidents individually listed on its website that are open to public scrutiny for verification or amendment. Show graphs

Interactive Graph

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