Thursday, December 16, 2010

U.S. Military And Intelligence Counts Of Iraqi Deaths

For the longest time, the United States claimed that it was not keeping track of deaths in Iraq. Eventually during the Surge in 2007, the military began releasing charts on casualties, but they lacked specifics. In October 2010 the Associated Press (AP) found that the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) had posted figures on Iraqi deaths. Later, Wikileaks released thousands of American intelligence reports that mentioned fatalities. These are just the latest figures on the human costs of the Iraq war, and should be compared to the other organizations that have tracked deaths.

The Associated Press discovered that CENTCOM put up numbers of Iraqi deaths on its website in July 2010 with little fanfare. The military claimed that 76,939 Iraqis had been killed from January 2004 to August 2008. That broke down to 63,185 civilians and 13,754 members of the security forces. Another 121,649 people were wounded during that period. There was no explanation of how the figures were arrived at, but AP speculated that they were based upon the charts that the Defense Department began releasing during the Surge in 2007.

In October, Wikileaks publicized thousands of U.S. daily intelligence documents from Iraq. The Guardian’s Data Blog culled through the papers and put together a chart on monthly casualties from January 2004 to December 2009. The Guardian found 83,300 Iraqi deaths for those six years and 176,382 wounded. Another 23,984 enemy combatants were also killed. For the time period covered in the CENTCOM posting, the Guardian noted 74,830 deaths, 2,109 less than the military’s.

Comparing Iraqi Death Counts (2004-2009)
Other organizations that track Iraqi deaths found much higher numbers initially, but then were in general alignment with the intelligence reports. In 2004 for example, the intelligence papers had 3,812 deaths. That compared to 16,894 by the Brookings Institute, and 10,834 by the Iraq Body Count. In 2005, the U.S. counted 8,993 deaths, which was close to icasualties’ 8,225. Icasualties only relies upon Western sources however, and notes that it misses many fatalities. In comparison, Iraq Body Count had 15,031 deaths and Brookings had 20,163. From 2006-2009 though, the numbers were roughly the same. For instance, in 2009 Brookings had 3,000 deaths, Iraq Body Count 4,681, the U.S. military 2,891, and icasualties 3,119. In total, from highest to lowest, the Brookings Institute had 100,481, Iraq Body Count 92,318, U.S. intelligence 83,300, and icasualties had 54,866 fatalities from 2004-2009. A simple explanation for the differences early on between the U.S. and private organizations, and then their later congruence could be that the Americans were not systematically keeping track of deaths from 2004-2005, but then made it a priority afterward.

Brookings Institute Iraq Body Count U.S. Intelligence Reports Icasualties 
2004 16,894 10,834 3,812 N/A 
2005 20,163 15,031 8,933 8,225 
2006 30,514 27,850 31,253 18,655 
2007 23,550 24,677 28,041 18,938 
2008 6,360 9,245 8,310 5,929
2009 3,000 4,681 2,891 3,119 
Grand Totals 100,481 92,318 83,300 54,866 

The Iraq War has had a devastating affect upon the country. Fortunately, the sectarian civil war ended, and although bombings and assassinations are still a daily occurrence, they are nowhere near what they were before. The numbers from CENTCOM and Wikileaks provide important new details about the cost of the conflict. They should be analyzed and compared to the other sources available to provide a fuller account of just how many people have died in this tragedy.


Fadel, Leila, “77,000 Iraqis killed from 2004 to August 2008, U.S. military says,” Washington Post, 10/14/10


Iraq Body Count

Jakes, Lara, “US military says 77,000 Iraqis killed over 5 years,” 10/14/10

O’Hanlon, Michael, Campbell, Jason, “Iraq Index,” Brookings Institution, 11/30/10

Rogers, Simon, “Wikileaks Iraq: data journalism maps every death,” Data Blog, Guardian, 10/23/10


Don Cox said...

It would be desirable to have figures broken down by cause of death - attack by coalition forces, attack by Sunni insurgents, attack by Shia insurgents, etc.

What the figures do not (and probably cannot) cover is the incidental mortality, such as infant deaths caused by breakdown of water and sewage services, early deaths of older people caused by breakdown of health services, and excess traffic accidents caused by the large number of new drivers.

amagi said...

Whatever happened to that 2006 Lancet survey? Why don't we hear about that anymore? So far as I know, despite being censured when they wouldn't release their data, their study was never retracted or debunked.

Anonymous said...

I'd say that the 2006 Lancet survey has been quite thoroughly debunked. See here for example:

Or also see the end of this posting for a long list of academic critiques that have rejected the Lancet survey:

Joel Wing said...


I think the first kind of data is impossible. While the sectarian war was going on there was just too much killing going on that no one took credit for.

Of the second kind, only traffic deaths would be recorded. It would be too hard to single out a specific cause for other types of death.

Joel Wing said...


The Lancet study was popular int he press, but has largely been discredited by academics.

They had problems with their methodlogy, had some glaring questions about the data the used, refused to share their findings with others, have been censured, might have faked some results, etc.

If you want I can list a bunch of sources that have critiqued the report. I've been going through them because when I have more time I plan to write a piece about it.

amagi said...

Joel, thank you! I would very much like a list of sources (and, may I say, you always do a fantastic job of sourcing your reports). I am nothing if not patient however, and will happily wait until you post the piece that you are intending to write.

Joel Wing said...


Here's the articles I've read so far on Lancet:

Dardagan, Hamit, Sloboda, John, and Dougherty, Josh, “Reality checks: some responses to the latest Lancet estimates,” Iraq Body Count, 10/16/06

Bohannon, John, “Iraqi Death Estimates Called Too High; Methods Faulted,” Science, 10/22/06

van der Laan, Mark, “”Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: A cross-sectional cluster sample survey”, by Burnham et al (2006, Lancet, An Approximate Confidence Interval for Total Number of Violent Deaths in the Post Invasion Period,” Division of Biostatistics, University of California, Berkeley, 10/26/06

Shone, Robert, “Scientists criticize Lancet 2006 study on Iraqi deaths,” Media Hell, 2007

Giles, Jim, “Death toll in Iraq: survey team takes on its critics,” Nature, 3/1/07

Guha-Sapir, Debarati Degomme, Olivier, “Estimating mortality in civil conflicts: lessons from Iraq,” Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, June 2007

Munro, Neil, “Data Bomb,” National Journal, 1/4/08

Johnson, Neil, Spagat, Michael, Gourley, Sean, Onnela, Jukka-Pekka, and Reinert, Gesine, “Bias in Epidemiological Studies of Conflict Mortality,” Journal of Peace Research, September 2008

Onnela, J.-P., Johnson, N.F., Gourley, S., Reinert, G., and Spagat, M., “Sampling bias in systems with structural heterogeneity and limited internal diffusion,” EPL, January 2009

Spagat, Michael, “Mainstreaming an Outlier: The Quest to Corroborate the Second Lancet Survey of Mortality in Iraq,” Department of Economics Department, University of London, February 2009

BBC, “Iraqi death researcher censured,” 2/4/09

Shone, Robert, “Dubious polls: How accurate are Iraq’s death counts?” The Comment Factory, 6/30/10

amagi said...

Excellent. Many thanks!