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Although our entire database is available online in disaggregated form, IBC provides an aggregate view at least once a year, partly to highlight trends.

Current trends are among the most alarming since we began recording civilian casualties in 2003.

Iraq 2014: Civilian deaths almost doubling year on year

An overview of the year’s violence

First published  1 Jan 2015 

2014 Summary

17,049 civilians have been recorded killed in Iraq during 2014 (up to Dec 30). This is roughly double the number recorded in 2013 (9,743), which in turn was roughly double the number in 2012 (4,622). These numbers do not include combatant deaths, which even by the most cautious tallies have also seen a sharp rise in 2014.

The conflict in Iraq that began with the US/UK invasion of March 2003 has continued now for nearly twelve years. During this period, not a single day has passed without Iraqi civilians being killed. The year 2014, however, reflects an increase in violence to levels not seen since the worst years of 2006 and 2007. The rise of the group Islamic State (or ISIS or ISIL) as a major force in the conflict, as well as the military responses by the Iraqi Government and the re-entry of US and Coalition air forces into the conflict, have all contributed to the elevated death tolls.

1. Civilians killed in 2014, and compared with earlier years

During 2014 Iraq Body Count (IBC) recorded 17,049 civilian deaths from violence. This is the third highest civilian death toll after 2006 and 2007, and some months exceeding even those years’.

2012 2013 2014
January 531 357 1076
February 356 360 930
March 377 403 1009
April 392 545 1013
May 304 888 1027
June 529 659 2534
July 469 1145 1481
August 422 1013 1592
September 400 1306 1956
October 290 1180 1797
November 253 903 1468
December 299 983 1166
Totals 4622 9742 17049

While the post-invasion period in Iraq has never been free of conflict-related violence and associated civilian casualties, the years 2010-2012 saw a relative reduction in levels of violence, with annual civilian death tolls ranging from 4,116 to 4,622, and the monthly rate ranging from a low of 218 to a high of 529. (Those three years nonetheless saw more than 2,500 deadly bombing incidents, an average of two a day.) This relative stability ended in early-to-mid 2013, after which the death tolls have sometimes risen dramatically.

There has been no monthly civilian death toll lower than 900 since July 2013, with most being much higher: June (2,534), September (1,956) and October (1,796) being higher than any monthly toll since 2007 (and each in fact higher than the equivalent month in 2007). And as at the end of 2014, the monthly average for the second half of the year – that is, excluding the June peak – stands at over 1,500.

That June peak of 2,534 was the month that marked the beginning of the ISIS offensive. Actions by, and by others in reaction to, ISIS appear only to have worsened an existing trend in rising civilian casualties.

2. Geographic distribution in 2014

The greatest number of deaths have been in Baghdad, Ninewa, Salah al-Din and Anbar provinces (governorates), which between them accounted for close to 80% of civilian deaths. Baghdad had the highest number of deaths, with 4,767 civilians recorded killed this year, while Anbar had over 3,600 civilians killed, half of them (1,748) by the Iraqi military in daily air strikes, primarily in and around Falluja. In Salah al-Din and Ninewa civilian killings by ISIS have contributed significantly to the death toll. All four of these provinces have seen a marked increase in the number of deaths over 2013, with Baghdad almost doubling and the other three provinces more than doubling.

BAGHDAD: 4,767
ANBAR: 3,623
NINEWA: 2,367

3. Perpetrators: Deaths identified as caused by coalition or Iraqi airstrikes, and ISIS action.

Among the 17,049 civilians recorded killed, many deaths were attributable to the actions of specific armed groups while the perpetrators of many killings remain unknown. 1,748 civilians were reported killed by Iraqi military air strikes, while 4,325 were killed by ISIS. A further 10,858 civilians were reported killed by unidentified actors, where it has not been possible to establish which of the major actors, or possibly other, less well-identified groups, were involved. 118 civilians were reported killed by US-Coalition air strikes, the first time since 2011 that civilian deaths have been directly attributable to US-Coalition actions.

4. Combatants killed: Rough totals, and a discussion of the large variation.

Deaths among Iraqi military and among insurgent groups such as ISIS have increased dramatically in 2014, in relation to previous years. Besides a clear increase in total numbers, 2014 has also seen for the first time a sharp divergence in reported totals of combatant deaths between some of the common sources that have been used to track casualties in the conflict for many years. Some of these sources include the daily tracking by Agence-France Presse (AFP), official statistics released by Iraqi government ministries, and aggregated media reports. In past years, numbers from these sources have varied, with some higher or lower than others for any given time period or category of casualties, but have usually not been very far apart. 2014 has seen a wide gulf emerge in the totals for combatant deaths, with totals from AFP and official statistics suggesting roughly 4,000-5,000 combatants killed during the year, while aggregated media reports on the other hand, with each report of combatant deaths taken at face value, suggesting totals of roughly 30,000.

It is not possible for us to say at present what number in this range is correct or most credible, in part because IBC has not analysed the reporting on combatants in as much detail as we do with civilians, but also due to considerable uncertainty with the reliability of some of the reports. The lower range of 4-5,000 is likely too low due to limitations in information gathering. On the other hand, we think that a face value total of approximately 30,000 derived from aggregated media reports is likely too high.

Many of the media reports that make up this total rely either on military sources in the field providing numbers for ISIS/insurgent deaths, or on ISIS/insurgent sources providing numbers for military deaths. At the same time, it is clear from many of these reports that the numbers reported are often not precise “body counts” tied directly to specific incidents or specific victims, as is typically the case with civilian deaths, but rather are rough estimates of how many enemy fighters were killed in a particular operation, or over a given time-frame. These estimates generally originate from parties with an interest in advancing the perception that they are making significant gains over their enemy, and may therefore be prone to exaggeration.

For such reasons, the most that can currently be said is that reporting on combatant deaths during 2014 ranges from about 4,000 to 30,000. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two numbers, but neither can be ruled out at present.

5. Total deaths in 2014 (civilian and combatant) and cumulative total since 2003

Combining the 17,000 civilian deaths recorded by IBC with the above wide range of combatant deaths of 4,000-30,000, suggests a total of between 21,000 and 47,000 people have been killed in war-related violence in Iraq during 2014, making it one of the three worst years of the conflict that began nearly twelve years ago.

1 For a discussion of these figures and how they were derived, see IBC's original version of this table.

Total cumulative reported deaths for the entire period 2003-2014 passed 200,000 during 2014, and presently stand at 206,000 using the more conservative end of the range for combatant deaths in 2014. Over 150,000 (around 75%) of these were civilian. 1

Iraq Body Count 2003-2014 150,772
Iraq War Logs new 'Civilian' and comparable 'Host Nation' remaining 2004-2009 - central estimate 9,720
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 2003 4,895
Insurgents killed June-December 2003 597
Insurgents killed May 2004 652
Insurgents & Iraqi soldiers killed March 2009 59
Insurgents & Iraqi soldiers killed 2010–2014 7,948
US & Coalition military killed 2003–2014 4,807
US & Coalition foreign contractors killed 2003–2014 468
TOTAL 205,992

Concluding remarks

There is a new brutality on the ground and renewed attacks from the air. ISIS and the Iraqi army have caused thousands of civilian deaths this year, while the international coalition has yet again been responsible for civilian killings, for the first time since US withdrawal three years previously. Iraqi civilians are once again being killed by all sides.

As the pattern of violence shows, following the withdrawal of US troops at the end of 2011 and the subsequent implementation of anti-Sunni policies by the Iraqi government, between 2012 and 2013 the death toll more than doubled. In 2014, largely in connection with the rise of ISIS and the military response to it, the death toll has nearly doubled again, making 2014 the third most lethal for civilians (after 2006 and 2007) since the 2003 invasion. The continuing killing of civilians has marked the entire period from 2003-2014: sometimes rising, sometimes falling, but never ceasing.