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Press Release 15 18 Mar 2007

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Update:

As noted at the end of this press release and explained elsewhere, IBC is not a fixed snapshot in time, but an open-ended project that continually updates its database as more data is analysed. Since the publication of this piece on 18 March 2007, several IBC figures for the 'Year 4' period have increased through such additions.

The key updated figures are IBC's total for the 4th year, which then stood at 26,540, and is now 29,435, meaning that the per-day rate for civilians killed has also increased, from 73 to 81; and deaths which could be identified as directly Coalition-caused have increased from 536 to 739.

Year Four: Simply the worst

March 18th 2007

Summary

On every available indicator the year just ended (March 2006 – March 2007) has been by far the worst year for violence against civilians in Iraq since the invasion:

  • almost half (44%) of all violent civilian deaths after the initial invasion phase occurred in the just-ended fourth year of the conflict
  • mortar attacks that kill civilians have quadrupled in the last year (from 73 to 289)
  • massive bomb blasts that kill more than 50 people have nearly doubled in the last year (from 9 to 17)
  • fatal suicide bombs, car bombs, and roadside bombing attacks have doubled in the last year (from 712 to 1476)
  • one in 160 of Baghdad’s 6.5 million population has been violently killed since the beginning of the war, representing 64% of deaths recorded so far

These are the stark headlines derived from Iraq Body Count’s ongoing compilation and analysis of media reports of civilian casualties in the Iraq conflict, which has documented 65,000 violent deaths to date.

Trends since 2003.

Following the six week “Shock and Awe” invasion phase (March 19 - May 1, 2003), which alone caused the deaths of some 7,400 civilians, the violent death toll has steadily risen year-on-year. There were 6,332 reported civilian deaths in the 10.5 months following the initial invasion in year one, or 20 per day; 11,312 in year two, 55% up on year one’s daily rate; 14,910 in year three (32% up on year two); and a staggering 26,540 in year four (78% up on year three, and averaging 74 per day). Not counting the 7,400 invasion-phase deaths, four times as many people were killed in the last year as in the first. And from the invasion to the present, at least 110,000 civilians have been wounded, 38,000 of them during year four.

Trends in the last year.

Even within the last year, there has been a marked upward trend in violence. This trend is reflected in IBC’s monthly figures, which peaked in July at nearly 3,000 and have since remained elevated at around 2,500 or higher throughout the second half of the year. These IBC trends are broadly in line with the Pentagon’s latest assessment of trends in the security situation (which however include attacks on US and Iraqi troops as well as civilians). In the data collected by the Pentagon most casualties were Iraqis, despite that 68% of the attacks targeted US-led coalition troops.

Bombings.

Iraq has seen a particularly marked increase in mortar attacks, suicide car and roadside bombing attacks, and massive incidents that kill more than 50 people. In the last year there were seventeen such large bombing incidents - eight of them occurring in 2007, and the two most lethal ever (killing 137 and 120 civilians, respectively) occurred in the last 2 months.

Regional differences.

Baghdad, the most populous region of the country, nonetheless continues to be one of its most pervasively violent, experiencing about five times more deaths per capita than the rest of the country. By the end of year four, approximately 1 in 160 of its residents had been violently killed - an impact on the population that approaches the effect on Fallujah after the two major US sieges of the city in 2004 (during which about 1 in 140 Fallujans were killed). Furthermore, by far the majority of casualties throughout the nation are among men, who are both the most frequently targeted and, since the invasion, the most exposed. The overall national breakdown of deaths shows that around a third of the civilian population (adult men) has borne about 90 % of deaths.

Morgue data, murders, assassinations and executions.

One of the most horrific aspects of the targeting of Iraqi males is the growing number of post-capture executions, which often include torture and mutilation. As these bodies are discovered, often piled together, or washed up at river barriers, they are sent to the morgues (Medico-Legal Institutes) for investigation and potential identification. The Baghdad MLI receives bodies found in the streets and outlying areas of Baghdad, as well as a number of unidentified bodies from bombings, which it photographs and tags to assist identification. Those that remain unidentified or unclaimed by relatives are sent for burial in mass graves in Najaf, Karbala and the outskirts of Baghdad.

About 10-20%, or roughly 200-250 per month, of the bodies received and autopsied at the Baghdad morgue are of people who died from non-violent but “suspicious” causes requiring some degree of legal investigation (e.g., from traffic accidents or other causes). The morgue’s total monthly autopsies are not therefore solely of violent deaths. However, more intermittent figures collected by IBC reveal the number of deaths the MLI determined to have been deliberate killings, usually by gunfire, rather than non-violent sudden deaths. Though incomplete, these clearly expose central Iraq’s precipitous decline in civil security from almost immediately after the invasion:

Deaths Identified as Murders at Baghdad Central Morgue
July 2002 21
Aug 2002 10
July 2003 498
Aug 2003 522
Aug 2004 386
Nov 2005 555*
July 2006 1,417**
Aug 2006 1,091

*No information for summer 2005
**A record in the morgue’s history

The bodies of autopsied murder victims frequently show signs of torture, a trend that has accelerated since at least 2005. In the present ghastly climate, news like the following can actually qualify as “good”:

Police also found 25 corpses dumped around Baghdad. A source in the Interior Ministry said the bodies, all with gunshot wounds, bore no markings of torture, as they often have in the past. [LA Times 21 Feb 2007]

Coalition-caused deaths.

Coalition forces, principally US as well as some UK, were identified to have killed at least 536 Iraqi civilians in year four (excluding a major incident in Najaf in January which is still under investigation by IBC). This compares with 370 in year three. If 536 seems insignificant in light of the overall total, consider for a moment what it would mean if in your country there were, on average, three incidents a week in which a foreign army killed civilians, including the killing of a 5-yr-old girl and entire families with their children. Would this army be a stabilising influence?

What are the implications?

The daily violence remains Iraq’s greatest civil concern. The data we have presented over the last four years show that there has never been a sustained period when things have not been deteriorating on the security front. Contrary to statements from President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that there are ‘encouraging signs’ of progress in Iraq, and that ‘things are going reasonably well,’ the violence this last week was at the usual high levels. This innocent death toll is the blunt and ever-louder signal of a horribly failed policy. The US-UK designed military-interventionist “solution” for Iraq has clearly turned out to be no such thing. Talk of "civil war" should not disregard the US-UK policies which led to it, and the continued military presence, far from being a solution, is at the core of Iraq’s problems. The Coalition needs to finally begin handing control of Iraq back to Iraqis. If it keeps deferring this obligation, what hope is there that year five won’t be even worse than year four?

APPENDIX : Post Invasion Trends.

Note: Figures below do NOT include the 7,400 civilian deaths recorded during the six-week invasion phase in March-April 2003.

Year 1 May 03 -
19 Mar 04
20 Mar 04 -
19 Mar 05
20 Mar 05 -
19 Mar 06
20 Mar 06 -
16 Mar 07
Number of Days 324 365 365 362
Civilians killed/day 20 31 41 73
Civilians Killed 6332 11312 14910 26540
... by Mortars
    (# of Attacks)
30
(10)
303
(82)
286
(73)
1374
(289)
... in Car, Suicide and Roadside Attacks
    (# of Attacks)
742
(55)
1782
(276)
3402
(488)
5797
(976)
... in Bombings killing more than 50
    (# of Attacks)
447
(5)
446
(6)
712
(9)
1476
(17)

Iraq Body Count (IBC) compiles data from news reports to provide a baseline number of confirmed fatalities, but it should be noted that many deaths will likely go unreported or unrecorded by officials and media. Further, IBC statistics refer solely to violent incidents which caused civilian deaths. They do not include violent incidents which produced no casualties or caused only injuries, nor incidents targeting and killing only military or paramilitary personnel. All figures are taken from the “maximum” confirmed deaths in the IBC database. However, IBC’s rates and counts will rise over the coming months, as data is still being added to the IBC database for 2006 and other periods covered here.