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Civilians continue to be killed by armed conflict (and its exploding remnants) in Iraq, but at overall lower levels. Reduced, but only to levels unthinkable if applied to the Western nations that destroyed the country. All the more so since child deaths are in fact rising again, and so we focus here on children killed in 2021 and the dismal politics that fails to protect them.

(Updates are in blue text or numbers.)

IRAQ 2021: Grave Violations

Chronicling the rising tide of child deaths in Iraq

by Lily Hamourtziadou, Hamit Dardagan
31 Dec 2021 (revised 10 Jan 2022)

Children, one of them in a wheelchair, play among the rubble and ruins of the old part of Iraqi's Northern city of Mosul
Children play among the ruins of the old part of Iraqi's Northern city of Mosul.
(Nabil Salih - @NabilAlMafrachi)

The principles of distinction and proportionality require all fighters to distinguish between combatants and civilians. However, because of the changing nature of conflict, these principles are eroding among fighting parties, both states and non-state actors. Children are injured and killed during conflict, victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance, as well as bombings and shootings, abductions and executions.1

The 1999 resolution on children and armed conflict adopted by the United Nations Security Council placed the issue of children affected by war on the Council's agenda. The resolution identified and condemned2 six grave violations affecting children the most in times of war, which serve as the basis to gather information and report on violations affecting children:

- Killing and maiming of children
- Recruitment or use of children as soldiers
- Sexual violence against children
- Abduction of children
- Attacks against schools or hospitals
- Denial of humanitarian access for children

Iraq Body Count documented 669 civilians killed in Iraq during 2021, of whom at least 70 were reported to be children. This is more children than last year, in number as well as proportionally.

Year Civilians killed Children Percent
2021 669 70 10.4%
2020 908 32 3.5%
2019 2393 92 3.8%

Childhood endings


The first child killing in Iraq in 2021 was reported on January 1st, when the body of a boy aged 13-14 was found in Salah al-Din. Iraq News reported that the unidentified corpse was discovered on the southern bank of the Aqsa River by security staff.

An explosive device killed and wounded two girls, in Anbar, on January 18th. Captain Suleiman Al-Joghaifi, deputy director of police in Haditha, reported that the device exploded while children were playing in the Albu Hayat area in the district of Haditha, resulting in the death of an 11-year-old girl and the injury of another 10-year-old girl.

The next day, a 15-year-old boy was killed in an explosion in Muthanna. Another child was killed in Najaf on the 27th: Najaf Police spokesperson Lt. Col. Miqdad Al-Mousawi said, "while a group of citizens were digging near a garbage dump, a foreign object, which was of old war remnants, exploded and injured three people, including a 10-year-old girl who died".

A child was killed in an explosion of a military projectile in Jalawla, in Diyala, on January 29th. Acting Director of Jalawla district Ahmed Al-Zarkoush told the National Iraqi News Agency (NINA) that a child was killed and four others were wounded in an explosion that occurred when they tampered with the head of a mortar in Al-Wehda neighborhood, in the centre of Jalawla.


On February 16th, the body of a 10-year-old boy was found in Al-Salamiyah village, south of Mosul. On the 21st three brothers were killed in a landmine explosion in Nasiriyah. A stray bullet killed a 14-year-old boy in Basra on the 26th, during an armed clan conflict.


On March 8th a child was killed in an explosion in Kirkuk. On the 19th another child was killed when a missile fell on a house in Dhi Qar.


Security forces found the body of a child wearing sports clothes near a stadium in the Al-Failaq area near Kirkuk on April 10th. It was the body of 10-year-old Zubair Sami Khalaf.

A child tampering with a bomb reported to have been planted by ISIS was killed in the village of Qarah Dara on April 21st. A 4-year-old boy was killed in an armed attack on the 25th in Khalis as he walked to a relative's house with his father

On April 27th two children were killed and a third wounded, when a bomb exploded in Hammam Al-Alil. The children were grazing sheep. In Basra, two children were killed in another explosion as they played.


The body of a 16-year-old shepherd was found in Sheikh Hamdan village on May 3rd. A 17-year-old was shot dead in an ISIS-attributed attack near a security point in Muqdadiya, on the 12th

On May 16th a left-over projectile attributed to ISIS killed three children in Al-Malha village, near Tikrit, as they played. The body of a 16-year-old boy was found, after he was kidnapped, in the suburbs of Al-Abara district, northeast of Baquba, on May 26th.


A boy was killed on June 15th, along with two members of his family, when a landmine exploded in the Samawa desert. Another boy was killed in the village of Aziz on the 28th. He was tending sheep belonging to his family and died instantly when he came upon an explosive device, near Mosul.


A stray bullet killed a child in Basra on July 8th. At least 2 children were killed when a roadside bomb exploded in Baghdad's Sadr City on July 19th, killing 35 people. Two siblings died with their father on July 31st in Heet, when fighters reported as ISIS attacked a house.


A teenaged boy was killed on the 13th in Al-Qaim. He was a shepherd. According to a security source, an explosive device left behind by ISIS led to the death of the 14-year-old and the wounding of two others aged 12 and 13, all shepherds, noting that "the two wounded are in critical condition and were admitted to Al-Qaim Hospital, west of Anbar."

A UNICEF statement released on August 26th noted that on August 24th a 10-year-old was killed in an explosion. UNICEF reported an alarming increase in the number of child casualties compared to 2020 resulting from the explosive remnants of war and landmines. 'While landmines and explosive remnants of war often result in civilian casualties, children are most at risk. Because children are smaller than adults, they are more likely to be exposed to the full impact of an explosion and are therefore more likely to die or be seriously injured.' While IBC documented 25 child deaths from explosives from January to August, Sheema Sen Gupta, the UNICEF representative in Iraq, revealed that 35 Iraqi children had been killed in explosive violence since the start of the year, adding another 10 to the total recorded. (It is possible, but unlikely, that victims of unspecified age recorded by IBC included children in UNICEF's total. However as UNICEF did not publish their disaggregated data this cannot be entirely ruled out.)

An 11-year-old shepherd was killed by an IED in Bani Saad on August 25th. Two children were killed on the 31st in an explosion in Qadia camp for the displaced in Iraqi Kurdistan.


The burnt body of a 16-year-old girl was found in Bani Saad on September 1st. A girl from the village of Ain Tamr was killed in a landmine explosion as she was playing on September 23rd A security source reported that a mortar shell fell near a house in the Hamrin residential complex (60 km northeast of Baquba), causing the death of a girl and the injury of another child who happened to be on the street, on the 24th.


The tortured body of a 5-year-old girl was found in Baghdad on October 7th. On the same day Shafaq News reported that unknown persons targeted an electoral conference for the candidate Abdul Rahman Al-Bardi in Baiji with a sound bomb that was thrown from behind a wall. The bomb targeted Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Bardi while he was giving his speech, but it fell on the roof of a house under construction. The explosion killed a child and wounded 5 other children, who were on the roof of the house when the bomb fell near them.

Two children were reported killed in Kasr Mihrab, in Tal Afar, on October 22nd, when an explosive attributed to ISIS went off.


A 16-year-old was killed during clashes in Aldoaah in Dhi Qar, on December 2nd. Another 16-year-old, a shepherd, was killed by a landmine in the village of Al-Bayda on December 6th. Another boy was killed by an explosive attributed to ISIS in Sultan Abdullah village, near Mosul, on December 11th. A 5-year-old girl was killed in an exchange of fire between security forces and gunmen in New Baghdad, on December 19th.

In Jableh on the 30th of December a local SWAT team surrounded and attacked a rural farmhouse with heavy arms fire for four hours, allegedly including with rocket-propelled grenades. The pretext (later exposed as false) was the arrest of one man, Rahim Al-Ghuriri, on terrorism charges. The assault

left 20 civilians killed, including Rahim, his wife, six of his sons and daughters, his daughter-in-law, and a number of his grandchildren. Twelve children were killed.

The victims who were identified: Rahim Al-Ghuriri, his wife Yusra Ahmed, their children (Salam, Karim Rahim, Firas, Ayoub, Ibtisam and her two children, and Diana and her four children), Salam's wife Shaima Hilal, and their children (Abdullah, Saad, Anoud, and Anwar). Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor

One of the dead was a days-old baby. Several news reports* emerging days after the event (and after the first publication of IBC's annual summary, see original text**) revealed that initial claims by the security forces that Rahim had himself killed his family were lies. The massacre created an outcry, prompting Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadimi to visit the devastated home. Fourteen of the squad including its commanding officer have been arrested and an official investigation is underway.

*Some additional sources: Shafaq News Jan 08 | The National Jan 02 | CBS Jan 06 | Rudaw Jan 05 | Pukmedia Jan 03

**Original text: "On December 30th at least two children were among up to 19 of his own family members shot dead by a suspect, according to security forces, when a SWAT team surrounded the house he was in and attempted his arrest on terrorism charges."

Of the 70 Iraqi children killed in 2021, only one killed on April 10th and up to six killed on December 30th were fully named in the reports. Let their deaths and those of the other 63 nameless children not be forgotten. Iraq Body Count has documented the violent deaths of around 7,500 children and babies since March 2003, only some of whose names are known to the public record. Those deaths remain the gravest violation, saddest outcome of the invasion and the devastation it brought to this small Middle Eastern country.

A backdrop of political instability

Iraq's sixth election since the 2003 US-led invasion took place in October 2021. The 36 per cent turnout, the lowest recorded in the country's post-2003 electoral history, shows that many Iraqis are disillusioned with a political system which entrenches a corrupt political elite at their expense.3

It is hardly surprising, given the promises made by previous governments, none of which were kept, in areas of political and personal security. In May of 2020, Iraq's Parliament had approved a government programme presented by PM Al-Kadhimi, which gave as government priorities4 the following:

  • Restricting weapons to state and military institutions
  • Launching a national dialogue with all sections of Iraqi society, listening to the demands of the protest movement, bringing to justice those involved in the spilling of Iraqi blood and looking after the families of the martyrs
  • Protecting the sovereignty and security of Iraq, continuing to fight terrorism, and providing a national vision on the future of foreign forces in Iraq
  • Fighting corruption and protecting the wealth of Iraq
  • Promoting the values of shared Iraqi citizenship, respecting Iraq's ethnic, religious diversity, and rejecting all forms of discrimination
  • Providing all the necessary requirements to support internally displaced people to return to their home, and end internal displacement in Iraq

The government pledged to develop and reform security institutions:

  • The duty of the Iraqi Army is to protect Iraq's external borders, sovereignty, and democratic process. It must not operate inside civilian areas unless by exceptional orders from the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
  • The security formations of the Ministry of Interior will be responsible for internal security, maintaining civil peace, the rule of law, and protecting human rights. These formations will be reorganised, will receive further training, and be properly equipped
  • The National Intelligence Service, the National Security Agency, the Counter-Terrorism Service, and Popular Mobilisation Units will continue to perform the tasks assigned to them as directed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
  • The security forces will be properly equipped and provided with the necessary arms and ammunitions to enable them to protect Iraq from terrorism and to secure its borders


  • Iraq will not allow any country to violate its sovereignty, and will not permit its territories to be used to launch attacks on any of its neighbours or be used as an arena to settle regional or international scores

A year later, protesters were burning tyres and blocking roads in Karbala, after the killing of a prominent activist, Ihab Jawad Al-Wazni. A leading figure in protests against the government in the city, Al-Wazni was killed by unknown gunmen near his home in the early hours of May 9th. Protesters blocked a number of main roads in the city and demanded security forces find and identify al-Wazni's killers, threatening to escalate protests if the perpetrators were not exposed. Hundreds of demonstrators also took to the streets in the city of Nasiriya, capital of the southern province of Dhi Qar, closing down a number of main roads to protest the killing.

The killing of al-Wazni is seen by Iraqis as a message by militias affiliated with political parties. He was among 18 protesters and activists killed in 2021. In July, as summer temperatures reached scorching levels, hundreds of Iraqis poured into the streets to protest widespread power outages in Baghdad and the country's southern provinces. In Basra demonstrators blocked highways and burned tyres. There have been regular waves of anti-government protests since 2015. Iraqis have been frustrated by the lack of clean water and electricity, widespread poverty, high levels of unemployment, government corruption, and dismal prospects for the largely young population.

A never-ending death toll

Iraq in 2021 remains a country with an alienated and marginalised population, a corrupt government, an economy in crisis and, tragically, an annual death toll from armed conflict and terrorist attacks in the hundreds, with over 669 civilians killed by gunmen and in explosions, including air attacks. In addition, 941 combatants were killed, a category which, in Iraq, includes PKK fighters, ISIS and other terrorists, Iraqi military and the Popular Mobilisation militia. Altogether, 1,610 killings were recorded by IBC in 2021, indicating a continuing state of war. As for 'not allowing any country to violate its sovereignty', or 'use it as an arena to settle regional scores', Turkey bombed areas of Iraqi Kurdistan repeatedly this year. Iraqi governments continue to fail to provide security to citizens, in all areas. The safety and wellbeing of the unarmed population is clearly not a priority of those in change of Iraq, despite the continued killings, even those of children.

Three other children walk downstreet away from the camera, past a concrete blast barrier straddling the gutter and pavement.
Children walk past a concrete barrier straddling the pavement.
(Nabil Salih - @NabilAlMafrachi)