The War in Iraq: 10 years and counting
Analysis of deaths in a decade of violence
19 March 2013
The US/UK-led invasion of March 2003 has brought a decade of high and low intensity armed conflict to Iraq. But this conflict is not yet history. It remains entrenched and pervasive, with a clear beginning but no foreseeable end, and very much a part of the present in Iraq. In major regions of the country armed violence continues to exact a remorseless toll on human life, young and old, male and female, across society.
Since the beginning of 2003 the Iraq Body Count project (IBC) has been continuously tracking, analysing and maintaining a public record of civilian deaths on its website iraqbodycount.org.
The figures below provide a statistical overview of the conflict which outlines its human toll. Numbers are derived from over 31,500 deadly incidents analysed for information including time and location, perpetrators and weapons used, with demographic records for those victims (around 40% of the total) for whom such information could be obtained.
1 Slight variation of this figure from the IBC database will be due to the continuous addition of data as the online database is updated, and the inclusion in this release of March 2013 incidents still being fully processed.
IBC has documented 112,017 - 122,438 civilian deaths from violence between 20 March 2003 and 14 March 2013. 1
A complete account of violent deaths that includes Iraqi and foreign combatants (including coalition forces), as well as previously unreported civilian deaths still being extracted by IBC from the Iraq War Logs released by WikiLeaks, would include:
- 39,900 (combatants killed of all nationalities)
- 11,500 civilians (likely to be added from the Iraq War Logs)
2 For details, see IBC’s 2012 annual report with updates on overall numbers and the Iraq War Logs.
yielding about 174,000 as the number of people documented killed in violence in Iraq since 2003. 2
IBC has recorded an additional 135,089 civilians injured, along with incident and demographic details where known. However IBC only records injured in incidents where there were also deaths, and (unlike for deaths) official Iraqi figures are consistently higher than IBC's. In May 2012 the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry reported that there had been 250,000 injured since 2003. 3
The most intense period for civilian deaths was at the war’s very beginning, when more than 6,700 were killed in just 3 weeks of ‘Shock and Awe’ (from 20th March to the seizure of Baghdad on 9th April: a rate of 320 per day for 21 days).
The most violent month after the invasion was July 2006, with 3,266 violent deaths. The most sustained period for high-level violence was during the fourth and fifth years from March 2006 to March 2008, when ‘sectarian’ killings peaked and some 52,000 died.
Annual civilian deaths since 2003 (counting from 20 March–19 March each year):
- 14,007 in year one
- 12,001 in year two
- 17,026 in year three
- 31,418 in year four
- 20,930 in year five
- 7,829 in year six
- 4,747 in year seven
- 4,133 in year eight
- 4,433 in year nine
- ~4250 in year ten 1
The majority of civilian deaths during the first year (at least 55%) were directly caused by US/Coalition forces, who were reported as directly causing around 7% of all deaths in the subsequent period until their formal withdrawal on 31st December 2011.
Current deaths per year for civilians in Iraq (at between 4 and 5 thousand) are still of the same order as the total number of US and Coalition military killed over the entire 10 year period (now 4,804 according to http://icasualties.org). Overall there have been 25 Iraqi civilian deaths for every one US and coalition forces death.
Iraqi victims of the war come from all walks of life. IBC was able to determine the occupation of nearly 23,600 victims, covering some 700 professions. By far the greatest number were police who, along with journalists, are also most likely to have their profession mentioned, and hence to have been most completely recorded.
IBC’s documented occupational groupings, and the number of deaths reported for each, include:
- 10,238 police (excluding paramilitaries)
- 2,783 neighbourhood and private security
- 1,605 officials and public sector workers
- 751 community and religious leaders
- 288 journalists and media workers
- 265 medics and health care workers
Among slightly more than 50,000 victims about whom IBC could obtain demographic information, men numbered 38,441 (77%), women 4,373 (8.7%), and children 4,191 (8.4%). The weapons that kill women and children tend to be different from those used to kill adult males, who are more often directly or even individually targeted. 4
During these ten years 41,636 civilians were killed by explosives (including 13,441 in suicide attacks), and a further 5,725 by air attacks (usually also involving explosive munitions), and 64,226 by gunfire. There were 81 very large-scale bomb attacks over the post-invasion period, each claiming on average 85 lives and leaving about 200 wounded (from 6,879 killed, 16,340 wounded). The worst year for these events was 2007, with 20 such incidents, half of them in Baghdad. 5
Baghdad, the country’s capital and its political and administrative centre, and also by far its most populous city, has seen the greatest loss of life overall, with 58,252 lives lost (48% of all deaths), and continues to see the largest number of deaths year on year. But when measured against the size of its population, it takes second place to the province of Diyala (capital: Baquba), with civilian violent death rates of 8 per thousand against Diyala’s 9 per thousand. Other highly-affected provinces include Anbar (which includes the city of Fallujah) with 6 deaths per thousand and Salah al-Din (capital: Tikrit) with 5 per thousand. Moreover, these last three were the areas with the highest rates of violence (measured against population size) in 2012.
There has been an underlying anti-occupation / anti-government conflict throughout the period, identifiable both by the weapons it uses and its targets, with civilians caught either in the crossfire or targeted for their connection to the government. While deaths generally attributed to sectarian conflict have dropped 10-fold since their height during 2006–2008, deaths linked to anti-government actors have remained roughly steady at around 1,000—3,000 per year throughout, in recent years accounting for around a quarter of deaths (many of these being police).
This anti-government conflict forms a significant part of the violence now entrenched in Iraq, which has shown no diminution in recent years. While military forces were able to bring war to Iraq, it has not departed with them.
A proper understanding of the war’s human consequences, both past and present, remains to be established. This human question cannot be stated only in terms of numbers. When people die, it is not enough merely to establish how many died but to know who died. This knowledge is taken as a given for coalition soldiers killed, but as far as Iraqi civilian victims are concerned, only a tiny minority of their names or identities are part of the public record.
Of IBC’s current total of 122,438 documented civilian deaths, only 8,647 (7%) are even nominally identified. Each has their own page on the IBC website, but the identification of the vast majority is a task for the future, one which will require much broader participation, including from within the Iraqi population.