Although our entire database is available online in disaggregated form, IBC provides an aggregate view at least once a year, in part to draw attention to trends.
Current levels of violent death are among the highest since we began recording civilian casualties in 2003.
Also see the press release that accompanies this report.
Iraq 2015: A Catastrophic Normal
An overview of the year’s violence
First published 1 Jan 2016
1. 2015 Summary and comparison to preceding years
16,115 civilians have been recorded killed in Iraq during 2015 (up to Dec 30). This may be compared to 4,622 in 2012, 9,851 in 2013 and 20,030 in 2014. These numbers do not include combatant deaths, except where reported killed in summary executions.
As in 2014, Islamic State (also variously known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) continues to be a major cause of death of civilians, along with the Iraqi military, US and Coalition air forces involved in the conflict.
As IBC has continuously documented since early 2003, and as we noted last year, the post-invasion period in Iraq has never been free of conflict-related violence and civilian casualties. However 2010-2012 saw a relative reduction in levels of violence, with annual civilian death tolls ranging from 4,167 to 4,622, and the monthly rate ranging from a low of 218 to a high of 531. (Those three years nonetheless saw more than 2,500 deadly bombing incidents, an average of two a day.)1
1 As in all our annual reports in which the total is lower than the previous year's, we refrain from using adjectives like "improved". The simple truth is that over the past year the civilian death toll has grown by another 16,115. For those who have lost loved ones in 2015, there is no sense in which this can represent an "improvement" on 2014.
That relative stability ended in early-to-mid 2013. Taken together, the three years 2010, 2011 and 2012 claimed 12,942 civilian lives, whereas the past three years of 2013, 2014 and 2015 have left 45,996 dead.
Although 2015’s death toll is lower than 2014’s, it is far from reverting to the earlier relatively low levels of 2010-12, and belongs much more to the later, more catastrophic conditions which began in 2013. In fact, aside from the exceptionally high death tolls recorded in June and August of 2014, the level of deaths in 2015 were very similar to those in 2014.
More Iraqi civilians were killed in 2015 than in the three years 2010, 2011 and 2012 combined. Or to put it another way: If 2014 was the peak year since the dramatic increases from 2013 onwards, representing a more than fourfold increase on 2012, then 2015 remains the next worst, at a more than threefold increase.
Furthermore, IBC‘s original figure for 2014 as published a year ago was 17,049: the increase of about 3,000 since last year‘s report is partly due to newly emerging eyewitness accounts and discoveries of mass graves in areas where control has been retaken from Islamic State. Should there be similar discoveries in 2016, IBC’s figure for 2015 may also need to be revised upwards.
2. Geographic distribution in 2015
The greatest number of civilian deaths in 2015 were reported for the Iraqi governorates (provinces) of Ninewa, Anbar and Baghdad, followed by Salah al-Din and Diyala. These five provinces alone accounted for 90% of civilians killed in Iraq in 2015.
While Anbar had the highest number of deaths in the first half of the year (2,891) Ninewa saw the greatest amount of violence in the 2nd half (2,660 killed), reflecting a worsening situation in Mosul, in particular. These trends largely tracked the activities of the Islamic State in Ninewa, Anbar and Salah al-Din, including large numbers of executions, their repulsion from these areas, and killings by Coalition and Iraqi forces engaged in combat with them, including through air strikes and artillery.
Baghdad’s violence is not far behind Ninewa’s or Anbar’s, having remained at a consistently elevated level throughout the year. Diyala bears the tragic distinction of experiencing the year’s worst car bombing, which killed some 120 people on 17th July in Khan Bani Saad.
3. The major perpetrators and causes of civilian deaths
Of the 16,115 civilians recorded killed, many deaths were attributable to the actions of specific armed groups, but the perpetrators of many of the killings remain unknown. And even where known, some types of events can involve several parties to the conflict, either as opponents or as allies, making it difficult to know which was directly responsible.
Some airstrikes for example may have been carried out by Coalition forces or the Iraqi air force, or possibly both – this is not always obvious to observers on the ground. IBC’s airstrike civilian casualty data below contains a column listing the number of civilian deaths in cases where the deaths could have been caused by Coalition or Iraqi forces, or possibly both acting together.
In other so-called “cross-fire” cases where civilians are killed in battles, it can be difficult or impossible to determine which of two or more parties identified as involved in the hostilities was directly responsible for every death. In these cases our data should be read as indicating that a given party was involved in an incident causing civilian death: whether or not they, or their opponents in battle, caused the death or deaths is not known.
Around half of the year’s civilian deaths were by executions (the killing of captives), the majority of them by Islamic State. Another 1,246 were killed in executions by unknown forces.
Executions by all parties (including unknown perpetrators)
|Islamic State||Other perpetrators (includes bodies found with unknown perpetrators, in areas not under IS)||Executions by all perpetrators|
Civilian deaths in airstrikes 2
2 Total civilian deaths from Coalition and Iraqi airstrikes since June 2014 are 2,312
|Coalition forces||Coalition forces and/or Iraqi forces||Iraqi forces||Airstrikes by all perpetrators|
Civilian deaths involving Islamic State 3
3 Total IS-involved deaths since June 2014 are 13,493.
|By execution||IS and/or Iraqi forces (including shelling, clashes, other explosives)||All involving Islamic State|
Civilian deaths involving Iraqi government forces
|Airstrikes||Airstrikes involving Coalition forces and/or Iraqi forces||Total in airstrikes||Iraqi forces and/or IS (including shelling, clashes, other explosives)||Total for all causes|
4. Combatants killed June 2014 through December 2015
Since the new phase of the conflict began in June 2014, clashes between Iraqi military and allied militias on the one part and insurgent groups such as ISIS on the other have continued to be common, including throughout 2015, causing thousands of deaths among these groups.
Daily reporting on combatant casualties has continued to be sketchy and sometimes questionable (see discussion in our 2014 report), however Iraqi and Kurdish officials have recently begun to release more thorough information on losses among their forces, reporting that over 4,000 Iraqi soldiers and allied militia have been killed. Over 1,500 Peshmerga and Kurdish security force members have also been killed fighting ISIS in the North, mainly in Ninewa province. Some 13,000 ISIS fighters have been killed since June 2014, according to the Defence Ministry.
5. Total deaths (civilian and combatant) for the entire period from March 2003
Total reported deaths for the entire period 2003-2015 passed 240,000 during 2015. Over 170,000 (roughly 71%) of these were civilian. The table below has been regularly updated since 2010, and provides a summary of cumulative totals including both civilian and combatant deaths. 4
|Iraq Body Count March 2003-December 2015||170,509|
|Insurgents, Iraqi soldiers & other combatants killed 2010–2015||24340|
|Iraq War Logs new 'Civilian' and comparable 'Host Nation' remaining 2004-2009 - central estimate (9420), ‘Host Nation’ combatant 2004-2009 - central estimate (5575), ‘Enemy’ (minus IBC overlaps) 2004-2009 - central estimate (20499)||35494|
|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)||6203|
|TOTAL IRAQI DEATHS||236,546|
|US & Coalition military killed 2003–2015||4815|
|US & Coalition foreign contractors killed 2003–2015||468|