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As in earlier years, IBC provides an annual overview of events in Iraq from the key perspective of their deadliness to civilians, this year notably involving violently suppressed, largely youthful mass protests.

It is only this perspective that captures and confirms the awful reality that the country has been in a state of war for close to 17 years – and that its youth have known nothing else their entire lives.

(Figures updated 2 Jan 2020)

Iraq in 2019: Calls for a ‘True Homeland’ met with deadly violence

Another category of civilian killings comes to the fore: protester deaths

by Lily Hamourtziadou, with Hamit Dardagan and John Sloboda
31 Dec 2019

Violence reducing but ceaseless

After nearly two decades of war, uninterrupted but varying in intensity, in 2019 Iraq experienced its least deadly year so far, with 2,362 civilian deaths recorded by Iraq Body Count (IBC). As we always must when reporting such news, there is an important caveat:

While 2019’s annual civilian death toll in Iraq is its lowest yet, the stark truth is that by December 30, 2019, this toll had grown by at least 2,362 deaths. For as long as this conflict continues, its death toll can only accumulate and rise with each passing year and so, too, the pain and grief associated with it. For Iraqis who have actually lost loved ones in 2019, there is no sense in which the year's death toll can represent an “improvement.”

In its deadliest year, 2006, Iraq had witnessed the violent deaths of 29,562 civilians. The yearly and monthly totals, assembled after the painstaking daily task of extracting the data from hundreds of reports, betray the true, cumulative magnitude and impact of the war on Iraqi civilians.

Year Civilians killed
2003 12,133
2004 11,737
2005 16,583
2006 29,526
2007 26,112
2008 10,286
2009 5,382
2010 4,167
2011 4,162
2012 4,622
2013 9,852
2014 20,218
2015 17,578
2016 16,393
2017 13,183
2018 3,319
2019 2,392

In 2019, October witnessed the highest toll, with 361 killed; August the lowest, at 93. What demonstrates the nature of the security situation in the country though is that, yet again, the killings were almost daily. Between January 1st and December 31st, civilian deaths were reported on all but 27 days.

Of those 2,362 civilians killed, 92 were reported to be children but, given that demographic information was not provided for every death, their proportion may have been higher. This is particularly significant because of the high number of protesters killed this year, many of whom were young and might have been in their teens.

The greatest identifiable perpetrators of violence against civilians this year were government and state-associated forces, who killed some 500 protesters during May, September, October and November, including in single massacres carried out by gunmen whose death tolls (and identity) were disputed by state authorities. Regarding the roughly 500 overall total, however, there is no dispute. There had been no post-invasion year in Iraq where the number of demonstrators or protesters killed was even close to this high. The number injured in protests, rising throughout the year, was reported in December to have reached more than 22,000, a number also unprecedented in size. Another 56 protesters who were abducted remain missing.

The vast majority of deaths recorded by IBC this year were, as every year, direct deaths from conflict violence, that is, deaths that resulted directly from the violent actions of participants to the conflict. Also included are some criminal activities including 'tribal' or clan-based violence and deadly armed robberies or kidnappings: these, too, are part of the conflict violence as the continuing post-invasion breakdown in civil security makes those crimes not only more possible, but tragically also very common.

‘We Want a True Homeland’

-A shout of the young protesters this year. Most were 15-25 years old.

It is common for those living outside it to see Iraq as a country of endemic violence, war and upheaval: where the West has ‘tried and failed’ to provide security in a country of terror, of ISIS, of human rights abuses and tribal conflict. Others may see it as a developing democracy, or a budding Western-style economy trying to bloom in a barren, unstable region. It is common for us living outside it to forget that this ‘trial and error’ state is also the homeland of millions of people.

The invasion in 2003 was supported by, among others, those who saw a great opportunity for Iraq to be ‘reconstructed’. The invading coalition was going to help, to create anew a country according to their own fantasies (never mind what Iraqis might want). What could possibly go wrong?

On April 6th 2003, while Iraq was still under attack from coalition forces, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz stated, “There has got to be an effective administration from day one. People need water and food and medicine, and the sewers have to work, the electricity has to work. And that’s a coalition responsibility” (‘Privatization in Disguise’, Naomi Klein, April 10, 2003). By the time the Iraqi people had a say in choosing a government, three years later, the key economic and political decisions about their country’s future had been made by their occupiers.

American and British plans for Iraq’s future economy went beyond ‘reconstruction’. The emerging state was going to be treated ‘as a blank slate on which the most ideological Washington neoliberals can design their dream economy: fully privatized, foreign-owned and open for business’ (‘Privatization in Disguise’, Naomi Klein, April 10, 2003). Those whose homeland it was, the Iraqi public, were absent from these decisions. Without any democratic process, the ‘charity’, the ‘gift’ of liberal and democratic Western states was barely disguised exploitation. In the name of that ‘democratic’ dream of a privatised, foreign-owned and ‘reconstructed’ Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have lost their lives.

As Iraq was being bombed by the coalition, Klein predicted,

‘A people, starved and sickened by sanctions, then pulverized by war, is going to emerge from this trauma to find that their country has been sold out from under them. They will also discover that their newfound “freedom”–for which so many of their loved ones perished–comes pre-shackled with irreversible economic decisions that were made in boardrooms while the bombs were still falling. They will then be told to vote for their new leaders, and welcomed to the wonderful world of democracy.’

17 years later, we see the complete breakdown of trust in the political system, we see corruption, brutality and violence. Protesters carrying the Iraqi flag are demanding their homeland, as their government violates and abuses their human rights, as security forces and anti-riot police open fire using live ammunition, tear gas, and heavy tear gas canisters – essentially, grenades that kill. As their ‘democratic government’ fails to provide opportunities, social, health and educational safeguards for its children. As, like every one of its governments since 2006, it continues to fail to provide its people with any kind of security.

Security does not simply involve and is not limited to physical attacks resulting in death or injury. That 2,362 civilians were recorded killed this year, compared to 3,319 civilians killed the year before and 13,183 the year before that, does not mean that Iraq is now safer, or more secure. It does so only in a very narrow understanding of security. However, security is a much broader concept or category that includes a commitment to human rights, justice, prosperity and the creation of political, social, environmental, economic and cultural systems that are the building blocks of survival, livelihood and human dignity. In a state rife with injustice, poverty, violations of human rights, government brutality and continuous foreign intervention, there can be no security. There can also be no democracy.

Why recording Iraq's casualties – and conflict casualties everywhere – matters

Conflict violence continues in Iraq and, as we see, still claims thousands of civilian victims every year. It continued after 2011, when American and British forces temporarily withdrew, making the recording of casualties still necessary and clearly indicating that the continuing violence was the consequence of a broken state, unable or unwilling to protect its civilian population.

This year the remains of another 587 people were found buried in mass graves. The recording of such casualties is as important as the recording of those killed in ‘live’ incidents for a number of reasons. Firstly, the remains of those killed, as well as any property found with the bodies, need to be returned to their relatives; the dead must be buried with dignity and in accordance with their religious or cultural beliefs; additionally, they are to be buried individually and not in mass graves; finally, cause of death needs to be established.

As articulated by the UK NGO Every Casualty Worldwide, continuing to document of such killings is vital, because every person is entitled to human dignity and recognition in the eyes of the state and within the international legal framework. Continuing to acknowledge those deaths is imperative for the state, for the public and for the international community. Public state institutions ought to maintain records of the deaths of its citizens and use this data to inform the public, shape policy and appreciate the overall impact of a conflict on the population. Such data needs to be collected in order to analyse the effects of certain military practices and techniques. The data is crucial to the development of advanced military policy which aims to avoid and minimise civilian casualties in conflict. Morally, every person is entitled to recognition in the eyes of the state as a valued citizen, invested with rights provided under the framework of international law. No citizen should have their life arbitrarily taken, and especially ought not to fall within the category of ‘missing’ because of state failure to record the details of their death.

International institutions tasked with investigating violations of international law need such information in order to undertake informed and effective prosecutions. From a human security point of view, not only does the failure to continuously record the civilian casualties of military actions provide them with impunity, the bitterness and indeed rage resulting from this failure can itself drive future conflict.

While states are, in fact, legally obliged to undertake casualty recording of combatants and civilians, this has largely been left to civil society organisations (Susan Breau and Rachel Joyce, The Legal Obligation to Record Civilian Casualties of Armed Conflict (PDF), 2011). And it is civil society that still leads in methods that attempt to fully recognise human losses.

Who was killed, not just how many

As Every Casualty Worldwide emphasises in its international Standards for Casualty Recording, which distils and formalises best practices established by NGOs, whenever possible not just the circumstances of death, not just the demographics of those killed, but also their names should be documented. In Iraq this remains difficult and, in the IBC database, only about one in 14 of the civilian dead was able to be recorded by name (up to early 2017).

When it comes to human lives lost to violence, statistics and numbers are important but can never can be sufficient to assure the bereaved that their terrible loss has been acknowledged. IBC uses numbers (documented, not estimated) as the minimum, currently verifiable record of a human life lost. A full accounting of the Iraq war's dead will not be complete until not only their full number, but their identity has been recorded. A monumental task, perhaps, but is it really beyond the capability of our "information age"?

Here then, are just a few of those Iraqi civilian lives lost in 2019, named and unnamed, and the incidents in which they were killed:

Five children were killed on Monday December 30 by an explosion of ISIS military waste in Fallujah. A source in the Iraqi police said that the students are: Ayman Sami Muhammad, Madin Makki Rashid Al-Jumaili, Ehsan Omar Faisal Al-Jumaili, and Abdullah Iyad Naji Al-Jumaili, Siraj Bashir Rashid Al-Jumaili.

Two babies died in a hospital in Nasiriya when tear gas filled their ward, on November 11th

A doctor, Dr. Abbas, trying to treat injured protesters in Baghdad was shot dead by security forces on November 6th

When an IED, for which ISIS claimed responsibility, was placed in a bus in Karbala on September 20th, 12 passengers died, five others surviving with burns

Up to 9 members members of a family (including 4 children) were apparently shot dead in their vehicle by federal police forces who mistook them for ISIS members as they fled Iftikhar, on July 24th

(To see more preliminary records, browse

A true homeland? In the words of Iraqi poet Adnan Al-Sayegh,

The invaders come after the tyrants,
the tyrants come after the invaders
and nothing happens…
they replace handcuffs
with other handcuffs…
But they destroyed us
Built a prison from our dried blood
And called it a homeland
Then said: be grateful for your country

From ‘Uruk’s Anthem’ 1996