Monday, December 29, 2008

Iraqi Death Counts

There are four main sources for casualties in Iraq. Two, Iraq Body Count and icasualties are updated constantly, and are easily accessible on the internet. The Brookings Institution has its monthly Iraq Index, which tracks monthly death rates. From 2007 to the present they have relied upon the Pentagon for its dead and wounded numbers. Most of those come from the quarterly report the Pentagon makes to Congress known as “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq.” The Defense Department does not report specific numbers but rather provides charts, which the Iraq Index uses to make estimates off of. The fourth source is the major news services. Reuters for example, usually reports monthly totals for the number killed based upon Iraqi government officials. The United Nations’ human rights reports on Iraq use to have the official government numbers, but after the U.N. reported more than twice the number of official deaths in 2006, Baghdad decided to stop its ministries from reporting their death counts.

It should be no surprise that each one of these sources records different amounts. In broad terms, icasualties has the lowest number of deaths. On their website they note, “Iraqi deaths based on news reports. This is not a definitive count. Actual totals for Iraqi deaths are higher than the numbers recorded on this site.” Iraq Body Count’s numbers are higher, and the Pentagon is right in the middle. Reports by the news services and newspapers are all over the place depending upon whom they talk to. On December 1, 2008 for example, Reuters had a body count for November 2008 based upon “government figures.” Where they came from was never identified. On November 1 Alsumaria TV had a report on October’s casualties based upon the Iraqi Defense, Interior and Health Ministries. On September 30 the Associated Press had a report on deaths based upon their own count.

Despite their differences all reports have followed the same broad trend. From the invasion to 2005 there was a steady increase in civilian and Iraqi security forces’ casualties. In February 2006 a Shiite shrine in Samarra was bombed and the sectarian war took off, and so did the dead and wounded. From January 2007 to the present deaths have declined with small increases such as in early 2008 when the government launched offensives against the Mahdi Army in Basra and then Sadr City in Baghdad.

Iraq Body Count recently released a report on trends in 2008. It found that from January to November 2008 between 8,351-9,028 Iraqi civilians were killed. That compares to 25,774-27,599 civilian deaths in 2006 and 22,671-24,295 killed in 2007. In contrast icasualties recorded 5,908 civilians and Iraqi soldiers and police killed from January to December 29, 2008, while the pentagon counted 5,580 from January to September. Average daily deaths have dropped from 76 per day in 2006, to 67 per day in 2007, to 25 per day in 2008 according to Iraq Body Count. That is the same rate as the first 20 months after the U.S. invasion from May 2003 to December 2004. Violence has declined in Baghdad the most, as it was the center of the sectarian war that is now over and the focus of the U.S. Surge. From 2006-2007 the capital accounted for 54% of all deaths. By 2008 it only accounted for 32%. The number of Iraqi police killed has also gone down from 1,891 in 2006 to 2,065 in 2007 to 928 so far in 2008. As with the November 2008 Iraq Index, Body Count found that civilians killed in bombings has hardly changed. In 2007 1,174 civilians were killed in roadside bombings compared to 1,106 in 2008 up to November.

While none of these sources look into causality the major one is the end of the sectarian war. American commentators differ on the reasons for its cessation from the Shiites defeating the Sunnis in Baghdad, to the Surge, to the Sunni Awakening, to Moqtada al-Sadr’s cease-fire, but they all agree that the civil war is over. That doesn’t mean violence has ended. Rather the source has changed. Rather than revenge and ethnic cleansing, most of the attacks appear to be based upon political disputes. Places like Mosul and Kirkuk for example are divided between Arabs and Kurds, which has meant deaths have hardly decreased there since 2007. The provincial and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2009 could also be a cause. That will probably mean Iraq will continue to see violence in certain places into the foreseeable future as long as these issues are unresolved.

Iraq Death Counts

icasualties: Iraqi Security Forces and Civilians Killed:
January 2008: 554
February 2008: 674
March 2008: 980
April 2008: 744
May 2008: 506
June 2008: 450
July 2008: 419
August 2008: 311
September 2008: 366
October 2008: 288
November 2008: 317
To December 29, 2008: 299
TOTAL: 5,908

Brookings Institutions Iraq Index: Iraqi Civilians Killed
January 2008: 600
February 2008: 700
March 2008: 750
April 2008: 950
May 2008: 550
June 2008: 490
July 2008: 550
August 2008: 500
September 2008: 490
TOTAL: 5,580

Iraq Body Count: Iraqi Civilians Killed
January 2008: 742
February 2008: 977
March 2008: 1,538
April 2008: 1,260
May 2008: 759
June 2008: 669
July 2008: 583
August 2008: 591
September 2008: 535
October 2008: 526
November 2008: 467
To December 29, 2008: 322
TOTAL: 8,969


Alsumaria, “Iraq violence kills 320 people in October,” 11/1/08

Babylon & Beyond Blog, “IRAQ: U.N.’s Iraq report still missing casualty count,” Los Angeles Times, 12/3/08

Campbell, Jason and O’Hanlon, Michael, “Iraq Index,” Brookings Institution

Gamel, Kim, “Iraq forces gain more control, but lose more lives,” Associated Press, 9/30/08

Iraq Body

Matthews, Dylan and Klein, Ezra, “How Important Was the Surge?” American Prospects, 7/28/08

Reuters, “Iraq civilian death toll up, U.S. deaths down,” 12/1/08

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