Thursday, February 28, 2013

How The United States Abandoned The Idea Of An Interim Government For Iraq After The 2003 Invasion

The United States suffered from poor planning when it came to preparing for post-war Iraq. There were always a number of different groups tasked with the job, but they were not coordinated. One of the few things that was agreed upon was the creation of an interim Iraqi government shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein. President Bush signed off on this idea just before the 2003 invasion. Iraqi exiles were consulted, and several meetings held, but then suddenly Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), scrapped the plan. Bremer reversed course from the U.S. wanting to quickly leave Iraq to launching a long-term occupation of the country.

There were two competing ideas about what the U.S. should do in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. One would be to quickly set up an interim government. Supporters of this idea said that the new authority should be made up of both Iraqi exiles and those who had stayed in the country. The other would be for the United States to run the country. President Bush, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, members of his staff, U.S. representative to Iraqi exiles Zalmay Khalilzad, and deputy head of the Central Command (CENTCOM) General John Abizaid all supported the first plan. Before the war, Bush told a meeting, “We need to give this to the Iraqis as quickly as possible to form a government.” This was in line with Bush’s statements when he ran for president when he stated that he was opposed to nation building. Bush campaigned on the fact that he would not be like President Clinton who got the United States involved in a series of humanitarian and failed state situations such as Haiti and the former Yugoslavia. Other members of his cabinet such as Rumsfeld were equally opposed to long-term overseas engagements. These ideas largely shaped the strategy in Afghanistan when the United States overthrew the Taliban, held a meeting of Afghans, and quickly set up a government, which allowed the Americans to draw down their forces. It seemed initially that Iraq would follow that exact same path.

Right before the invasion, National Security Advisor Rice tried to make an interim government official policy. Rice set up a postwar planning group within the National Security Council (NSC) under Frank Miller. On March 10 and 12, 2003, Miller briefed the NSC on postwar plans, which included putting Iraqis quickly in charge of their country after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The president signed off on the idea. The problem was that this had no actual affect. The administration was dysfunctional when it came to strategizing for post-war Iraq. It always had several organizations planning for the situation, but none of them were coordinated, and hardly anything was every operationalized. Miller’s group was just one of many.

The U.S. military actually did try to act upon this plan, but it fell apart. Deputy CENTCOM commander General Abizaid told Zalmay Khalilzad that he needed to meet with Iraqi exiles to prepare them for an interim government so that an Iraqi face could be placed upon the war. Khalilzad wanted internal Iraqis included in any new authority, but he didn’t know any. Abizaid was not concerned, and wanted exiles quickly brought to Um Qasr in Basra right behind the invasion force to announce that they were the new rulers of Iraq. As the war began, and the Coalition quickly moved towards Baghdad, the interim government idea was dropped. Some in the U.S. armed forces were concerned that the invasion could turn out to be a drawn out affair, and not proceed as quickly as Rumsfeld had envisioned. That was what led people like General Abizaid to push for an interim government being established even before the war was over. When the Iraqi forces began disintegrating before the U.S. and British armies however, it wasn’t deemed necessary to involve Iraqi exiles, because the conflict was going to come to an end quickly.

In April 2003 Khalilzad met with Iraqis in Nasiriyah and told them that the U.S. had “absolutely no interest in ruling Iraq.” (BBC)

After Saddam was deposed Jay Garner and the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA) was placed in charge of Iraq. Garner envisioned turning over the country to an interim government in just a few weeks as well. On March 12, 2003, President Bush approved his plan at an NSC meeting. Garner later told two Senate staffers as he was waiting in Kuwait to enter Iraq that a new government would be created by August. Khalilzad assisted in this process by holding a meeting with both internal and external Iraqis in Nasiriyah just after Baghdad was taken. On April 22, Garner went to Kurdistan to meet with Massoud Barzani, Jalal Talabani, and exile leaders to continue the discussion. Many opposition groups had been trying to come up with a government in waiting since late-2002, but to no avail. Now it seemed within their grasp. The only problem was that Garner wanted to include some internal Iraqis. Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq objected, because they believed that would dilute their power in any new ruling coalition. With fewer parties involved, the more influence each would hold. Still, Chalabi told the press that an interim government would be in place by July. Garner always thought that his job would be a short one in Iraq. He originally thought that the war would lead to a humanitarian crisis with refugees and food shortages, but that the government would be up and running, and it would only be a few months before everything would return to normal. It would be his job then to just provide assistance, and then give Iraqis the reigns, and leave.

Officials from the Pentagon were pushing in the same direction. Rumsfeld’s spokesman Larry Di Rita was sent to Kuwait to watch over the ORHA before the war started. There he told a meeting of the organization that the State Department under Clinton had failed in Bosnia and Kosovo, and the Defense Department would not make the same mistakes this time. Di Rita stated, “We’re going to stand up an interim Iraqi government, hand power over to them, and get out of there in three to four months.” Harold Rhode of the Office of Special Plans in Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith’s office was in Kuwait at the same time, and pushed for Chalabi to be the new leader of Iraq. Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress were favorites of the neoconservatives in the United States, many of which held prominent positions within the Pentagon. Rhode expressed their belief that Chalabi was a Westernized Iraqi who could create a democracy in the country. Di Rita had the same view as his boss Rumsfeld, who did not want to get bogged down in any post-war situation. They both wanted to withdraw as quickly as possible after Saddam had been kicked out of office.

All of these ideas were thrown out the window when Paul Bremer assumed control of Iraq. On May 12, Bremer flew into Baghdad, and took over from Garner. At first, it was expected that he would follow in Garner’s footsteps, and continue with forming an interim government. That was not to be. Khalilzad thought that he was going to go with Bremer to Baghdad, so that he could introduce him to the Iraqis that he’d been talking to. He even set up a date for that event on May 15. Instead, Bremer dismissed Khalilzad’s plan. He was told right before the White House announced that Bremer was taking over Iraq that an interim government was no longer in the plans. When Secretary of State Colin Powell heard about that he called Rice warning that Khalilzad’s work should not be discarded. Rice said that one of Bremer’s prerequisites for taking the job was that he could run things the way he wanted. On May 16, Bremer announced his plan for Iraq. That did not include an interim government. Instead there would be a seven-step process to write a new constitution, get it ratified, and then form a government, which would take over a year. Iraqis immediately began complaining about the change. Followers of Moqtada al-Sadr held a demonstration in Baghdad on May 19 against the U.S. occupation. The next day, Iraqis met with the British representative to Iraq Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock demanding that sovereignty be returned to the country. Then on May 22, the United Nations passed Resolution 1483 that recognized the United States and the British as the occupying powers in Iraq. Bremer would use that document as another reason why he should be in charge, and that people should follow his strategy. Before Bremer departed for Iraq he met with President Bush who said that he had as much time as he needed to transform Iraq. Bremer took that promise literally, and completely changed America’s stance. No longer was Iraq to be like Afghanistan where the U.S. would quickly withdraw. Instead they were there for the long-term.

The decision to abandon an interim government was symbolic of America’s handling of post-war Iraq. The United States went to war with no real strategy for what should be done afterward. There had been planning for returning sovereignty to Iraqis as quickly as possible, and Bush signed off on the idea, but nothing substantive had really been done about it besides a few meetings with Iraqi exiles. When Jay Garner entered Iraq he thought he would have a straight forward humanitarian mission, but he never had the time to fulfill his vision. The White House didn’t like the way things were going in Iraq with the post-war chaos, and violence, and decided to replace him with Paul Bremer. Bremer wanted to be the viceroy of Iraq, and personally guide the country towards democracy. That could only be accomplished if the United States became the occupying power. Bush gave him his support even though it was the exact opposite of what had been discussed before the war. Since so many plans had come and gone with none of them ever coordinated this was just another example. There’s no telling how Iraq would have turned out if nationals were put in charge right after the invasion. Afghanistan for instance, is not close to stability, is considered even more corrupt than Iraq, and still has Coalition forces there, and it went down the path of early sovereignty. The difference is that Iraqis would have been in charge, bringing Iraqi sensibilities to things rather than trying to impose American norms as the Coalition Provisional Authority attempted with few successes.


BBC, “US begins shaping Iraq’s future,” 4/16/03

Chandrasekaran, Rajiv, “U.S. drops assembly idea for interim political council,” San Francisco Chronicle, 6/2/03

Diamond, Larry, Squandered Victory, The American Occupation And The Bungled Effort To Bring Democracy To Iraq, New York: Times Books, 2005

Gordon, Michael and Trainor, General Bernard, The Endgame, The Inside Story Of The Struggle For Iraq, From George W. Bush To Barack Obama, New York, Pantheon, 2012

Packer, George, The Assassins’ Gate: America In Iraq, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005

Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09

Walt, Vivienne, “Iraqis to take charge of country by July,” San Francisco Chronicle, 11/16/03

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why Iraq Won’t Solve Its Electricity Problems Any Time Soon

Iraq has had grand plans for its electricity sector for quite some time. After years of wars and sanctions the power grid is in poor shape and needs billions in investment to provide the public with 24-hours of power. That’s always been hard, because demand has skyrocketed since the 2003 invasion. That hasn’t stopped the Electricity Ministry and leading officials to promise that a solution to the country’s power shortages is just a few years away. An analysis of the industry however, reveals that Iraq is nowhere close to resolving this dilemma, because the task is too large for the skills and funding currently available.

Recently, Iraq’s Electricity Ministry released a 5-year master plan that outlines its goals for the power network. The 5-year plan calls for boosting production to meet demand by 2015. That is to be achieved by rehabilitating and expanding the existing transmission, distribution, and generation system. New power stations are to be built, generators installed, transmission lines laid down, etc. Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Shahristani for example, told the press in mid-February 2013, that three power stations would be opened per month until Iraq’s power struggles were ended. The Electricity Ministry wants to reach 13,000 megawatts by this summer, 20,000 megawatts by 2014, and 22,000 megawatts by the end of 2015. It also calls for a seven-fold increase in natural gas supply to fuel all the new power plants. The problem is the Ministry predicated that gas would only meet 50% of requirements within 5-years. That means that heavy fuel will be used, which degrades equipment quicker, reduces production, and raises costs. This has been a chronic problem within the country for years, because the natural gas industry is so underdeveloped. Another issue is that if all the components of the strategy are not met, it cannot reach its goals. That is the larger dilemma that faces Baghdad, and there are no signs that it’s achievable.

Al-Musayib Thermal Power Plant (Hyundai Corporation)

First, Iraq is not appropriating nor attracting the necessary funds. The 5-year plan calls for $31.8 billion in investment. The 2011 capital budget for the Electricity Ministry was only $3.2 billion, and it only spent 33% of it that year. The government has tried to make up the difference by soliciting foreign money. It offered four Independent Power Producers partnerships that would have allowed international companies to build, operate, and run facilities, while collecting revenues from them for the sale of electricity. Baghdad could not agree upon the price for these deals, so all of them fell through. That means the burden is completely upon the government to provide the money required, and it is failing to budget enough or even spend what it has. The capital budget would have to more than double for the Electricity Ministry from 2012-2015 to meet its mark, but that hasn’t happened.

Second, the Electricity Ministry has poor execution. The decision-making within the Ministry is inefficient and fragmented between its various directorates. It also doesn’t have the capacity to evaluate proposals, finish contracts, implement large projects or maintain its infrastructure. In terms of personnel it lacks engineers, managers, budgeting officials, and skilled labor. Many of the workers that it does have are inefficient. In 2012 it was estimated that it has over 100,000 employees. According to the Ministry, it takes an average of 15 workers to generate 1 megawatt of power. In the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, it only takes three. Since most of the 5-year plan is based upon large construction deals, the inability to contract, finance, and budget them, along with questions about whether they would be able to be serviced afterward, puts the entire scheme in question.

Members of the government have already pointed out these shortcomings of the Electricity Ministry. In September 2012, Deputy Premier Shahristani boldly told the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction that all of the Ministry’s predictions should not be listened to, and that their numbers should be considered theoretical. He went on to note that since most of the companies that have won contracts in Iraq are new to the country they could not be expected to finish on time. The Ministry supported that when it stated that some of the corporations would be delayed due to the hot summers. Shahristani is responsible for the energy folder in the government. If he stated that the Electricity Ministry’s goals should not be taken seriously that was a serious slap in the face to its abilities, and Iraq being able to solve its electricity difficulties.

Another factor is the sorry state of the country’s infrastructure. It was severely damaged in the 1991 Gulf War then neglected due to sanctions, before it went through the Iraq war and insurgency. Militants for instance, would routinely target electrical towers, and blow them up. The effect of all these events can be seen in the installed capacity of the country. In 1990, it was at 9,295 megawatts. By the end of 2003, it had fallen to 3,300. The actual operating capacity was far less. On top of that, the national grid is poorly designed. That leads to a huge amount of waste, low voltage levels, and disruptions. More than 1/3 of the power produced is lost before it ever reaches the consumers for example. That is the highest rate in the Middle East. This is the main reason why Iraq needs such a huge amount of money for its power system. Almost everything needs to be repaired, and tons of infrastructure added.

Iraq is also not dealing with a static amount of power that it needs to provide to solve this dilemma. Since 2003, demand for power has continuously increased. Iraq has high population growth, rising incomes, more businesses opening, and a country to city migration that all mean more use of electricity. The end of sanctions also released years of pent up demand, especially for consumer goods like air conditioners and refrigerators that were once scarce. Since the system cannot provide a consistent supply, Iraqis have turned to illegally tapping into the system. It’s estimated that there are over one million illegal hookups to the national grid. This obviously makes the problem worse as it siphons off power. Because supply is so bad, many Iraqis do not pay their electricity bills either. Those prices are already heavily subsidized, and after protests broke out in 2011, the government began giving away free power each month. All together that means that even if the Electricity Minister were able to produce 22,000 megawatts by 2015, that’s likely not to be enough to satisfy the public, and provide non-stop power.

In conclusion, the failure to deliver power affects not only the economy, but also the standard of living, and the government’s image. Businesses and factories are routinely shut down, because they lack electricity. It forces them and common citizens to turn to generators, which are a huge cost. This spending hurts investment and production by companies. As demonstrations in 2011 and 2012 showed, the public is very angry that they cannot get 24-hours of power each day. The perception is that there has been little progress in the delivery of electricity since 2003. The public plays a role in this as well, because it’s not like production has not increased. It’s that consumption has grown faster. Because of all the institutional and infrastructure problems that the Electricity Ministry faces there seems no chance that it will be able to reach any of the goals it set for itself in its 5-year plan. That means for the foreseeable future, Iraq will face continued blackouts and power shortages that reverberate throughout the society.


Adel, Shaymaa, “Iraq to invest $500 billion in energy sector,” Azzaman, 10/7/12

Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraq achieves electricity self-sufficiency end of 2013,” 1/20/13

Shafaq News, “Shahristani: Iraq will open three power stations every month,” 2/20/13

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly report to the United States Congress,” 10/30/12

Tijara Provincial Economic Growth Program, “Assessment of Current and Anticipated Economic Priority In Iraq,” United States Agency for International Development, 10/4/12

Yee, April, “Iraq aims to double power output,” The National, 10/24/12

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Iraq’s Sadrists and Prime Minister Maliki Reconcile Over Accountability & Justice Commission

At the beginning of February 2013, the Accountability and Justice Commission, which replaced the deBaathification Commission, announced the removal of Chief Justice Medhat Mahmoud from office for his ties to Saddam Hussein’s regime. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki immediately retaliated by firing the head of the Commission Falah Hassan Shanshal. Since Shanshal is from the Sadr Trend, various commentators argued that the move against Judge Mahmoud must have been orchestrated by that list. Sadr’s followers didn’t have the votes on the Commission to act alone however, so other political parties had to have voted on the matter as well. It was later announced that the Sadrists and the premier minister cut a deal to give the Trend another commission head in return for replacing Shanshal. That showed that Maliki and Moqtada al-Sadr are still allied with each other despite various claims to the contrary.
Sadr and Maliki have since made up over the head of the Accountability & Justice Commission (AIN)

On February 22, 2013, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reconciled with the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr over the head of the Accountability and Justice Commission. It was reported in the press that the prime minister was going to give the Sadr Trend the head of another commission to make up for the fact that he fired the Accountability chief Falah Hassan Shanshal. On February 18, Shanshal was dismissed from office by the premier for the Commission’s decision to remove Chief Justice Medhat Mahmoud on February 12. Judge Mahmoud was an ally of Maliki having made a series of decisions that favored him, including one that said that all the independent commissions including the Accountability one were under the cabinet not the parliament as is expressed stated in the constitution. Maliki then had the cabinet issue an order cancelling all the decisions made by the Commission under Shanshal, named his replacement Mohammed Badri, who then had a special session of the Commission to expel Shanshal. This series of events came as a surprise to many. Judge Mahmoud had worked under Saddam for his entire reign as a leading judge. Holding such a high position is grounds for dismissal under the deBaathification law. He therefore could have been dismissed years ago. The timing of his removal seemed to be linked to the upcoming April provincial elections as the various political parties are trying to position themselves, especially as opponents of the prime minister. Maliki’s response showed that he considered Judge Mahmoud an important ally. His attack upon Shanshal also changed the debate from being about the Chief Justice to about who would be the head of the Accountability and Justice Commission. Now even that issue seems to have been solved as Maliki and the Sadrists have cut a deal over the matter.

An increasing number of reporters and commentators have claimed that Moqtada al-Sadr has come out against Premier Maliki. They use Sadr’s meetings with other parties over the no confidence vote in 2012, and his verbal support for the on-going protests in Sunni regions as proof. The Sadr Trend has actually taken few substantive actions against the prime minister. Rather they are acting opportunistically in criticizing Maliki when circumstances arise, while rarely ever going beyond just words. The Sadr Trend is preparing for the April provincial vote, and the 2014 parliamentary elections, so these actions help Sadr portray himself as an independent, and a statesman rather than the militia leader he was once known for. At the same time, the deal between Maliki and the Sadrists over the Accountability and Justice Commission show that the two sides are still allied. The Trend for example, holds the most ministries in the government as a result of their support for Maliki’s second term in office. Sadr therefore has more to gain right now by standing with the prime minister than splitting with him, which is why arguments like the one over the Accountability Commission are so easily resolved.


AIN, “Maliki, Sadr Trend reach settlement over issue of J&A Commission,” 2/22/13
- “Sadrist MP elected as head of Justice & Accountability Committee,” 10/8/12

National Iraqi News Agency, “Maliki assigns Bakhtiar Omar instead of Shanshal,” 2/18/13
- “Maliki cancels all decisions taken by the Accountability Commission during Shanshal’s presidency,” 2/18/13

Shafaq News, “Shanshal’s nomination withdrawn from Justice and Accountability Commission,” 2/19/13

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 48,” 10/16/12

Visser, Reidar, “Iraq Gets A New De-Baathification Board but the Supreme Court Becomes a Parody,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 5/7/12

Monday, February 25, 2013

Have Iraq’s Oil Exports Hit a Plateau?

In January 2013, Iraq’s oil exports went up a fraction from the previous month. The price for a barrel of Iraqi crude did increase by over a dollar however. Still, with disputes between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over oil contracts, infrastructure bottlenecks, and other issues, it appears as if Iraq’s ability to deliver more petroleum for foreign sales has hit a plateau until some of these problems are resolved.

Oil exports barley changed from January 2013 to December 2012, and was far lower than the amounts seen last year. In January, the Iraqi Oil Ministry reported an average of 2.35 million barrels a day in exports. That was only a small increase from December’s 2.34 million barrels. Both figures were below the 30-year highs seen in 2012. In October and November for example, Iraq hit 2.62 million barrels a day, the highest amount since the 1980s. The south remained the workhorse of the country’s industry, exporting an average of 2.093 million barrels a day last month, up from 2.022 million in December. The flow through the southern pipeline went up despite the Rumaila oil field shutting down for a short period for maintenance work, and bad weather preventing tankers from docking in Basra’s ports. Both of these are routine events, which have a negative affect upon exports. The northern pipeline on the other hand, has seen a three-month decline. In January, 264,500 barrels a day went through the line, down from 325,800 in December. This was due to the Kurds ending exports in the middle of December over disputes with the central government over paying oil companies operating in the north, and more importantly, who has the right to sign oil contracts and sell petroleum. The central and regional governments have signed a series of short-term deals that inevitably break down, which means a steady flow of Kurdish oil through the northern pipeline cannot be counted on until the larger arguments are resolved. The northern line was also blown up in January in Turkey. The Iraqi government blamed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is carrying out a campaign against Turkey’s energy field. Finally, 11,000 barrels a day were trucked to Jordan in January. Iraq has seen steady progress in oil production in the last several years. What the country lacks is adequate infrastructure and political agreements to fully exploit that potential. Iraq has plans to address the former, but they are coming along slowly. The differences between Kurdistan and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are more enduring, and are unlikely to be solved any time soon. All together that accounts for why exports have plateaued after witnessing record highs last year.

Iraq Oil Exports And Profits 2011-2013
Avg. Price Per Barrel
Revenue (Bill)
Jan. 11
2011 Avg.
Jan. 12
Jan. 13

Oil Exports Through Basra 2012-2013
January 2012 1.711 mil/bar/day
February 1.639 mil/bar/day
March 1.917 mil/bar/day
April 2.115 mil/bar/day
May 2.086 mil/bar/day
June 2.085 mil/bar/day
July 2.216 mil/bar/day
August 2.252 mil/bar/day
September 2.178 mil/bar/day
October 2.172 mil/bar/day
November 2.122 mil/bar/day
December 2.022 mil/bar/day
January 2013 2.093 mil/bar/day

Oil Exports Through Kirkuk 2012-2013
January 2012 393,500 bar/day
February 375,800 bar/day
March 400,000 bar/day
April 393,300 bar/day
May 364,500 bar/day
June 316,600 bar/day
July 300,000 bar/day
August 312,900 bar/day
September 420,000 bar/day
October 451,600 bar/day
November 426,600 bar/day
December 325,800 bar/day
January 2013 264,500 bar/day

Despite exports hardly changing, the price of oil did go up for Iraq. In January a barrel of Iraqi crude went for $104.92. In December it sold for $103.72 per barrel. That dollar plus increase allowed Iraq’s revenue to go from $7.551 billion in December to $7.672 billion in January. The value of oil has been above $100 a barrel for twenty-one of the last twenty-four months for Iraq. This is a prime time for the country to pump and sell as much petroleum as possible in case prices take a dip. That is actually Iraq’s current strategy. Unfortunately, that has not been possible, because of the problems stated above.

Iraq’s oil industry has hit several plateaus in recent years. It now appears that the country is facing another. Exports peaked in late-2012, but have since gone back down to what they were at the beginning of last year. With new infrastructure only slowly coming on line, and more importantly, the continued bickering between Kurdistan and Baghdad over the future of the energy industry there appears little chance for change in the short-term. Iraq will still be able to reap a huge amount of money, but it could be earning a lot more if it was able to solve these outstanding issues.


Ajrash, Kadhim and Razzouk, Nayla, “Iraq Kurds Halt Crude Exports, Central Government Official Says,” Bloomberg, 12/24/12

Business News Europe, “Iraqi oil link to Turkey hit by explosion,” 1/21/13

Ministry of Oil, “Iraq Crude Oil Exports – January 2013,” 2/21/13

Reuters, “UPDATE 1-Iraq Basra oil exports restored after bad weather –shipper,” 1/12/13

Siddiqui, Shoaib-ur-Rehman, “Iraq oil exports rise to 2.359mn bpd in January,” Reuters, 2/3/13

Wicken, Stephen and Sullivan, Marisa, “2013 Iraq Update #7: De-Baathification Body Ousts Iraq’s Chief Justice as Protests Continue,” Institute for the Study of War, 2/15/13

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Iraq Still A Far Deadlier Place Than Afghanistan

Many have tried to compare Iraq and Afghanistan, but the nature of their conflicts are quite different. Afghanistan has a healthy insurgency, and is a mostly rural nation. Iraq on the other hand suffers from high levels of urban terrorism. For five of the last six years casualties in Afghanistan have increased, while Iraq’s have dropped dramatically for three years, and then increased slightly over the last two. Most would think that Afghanistan would suffer from far higher levels of violence, but in fact, Iraq’s militants have been able to take a far deadlier toll. That’s because Iraq’s large cities provide far more targets of opportunity than are available in Afghanistan.

When comparing the number of civilian deaths in the two countries, Iraq has far more than Afghanistan. According to the United Nations, there were 1,523 civilians killed in 2007, 2,118 in 2008, 2,412 in 2009, 2,790 in 2010, peaking at 3,131 in 2011, before dropping to 2,754 in 2012. Iraq Body Count recorded 25,280 deaths in 2007, 9,626 in 2008, 4,967 in 2009, 4,073 in 2010, 4,144 in 2011, and 4,568 in 2012. The numbers cannot be directly compared, because Iraq Body Count includes police fatalities, while the United Nations does not. By going through Iraq Body Count’s individual incident reports, the statistics for civilians killed in Iraq can be discerned. In 2012 for instance, there were 3,717 civilian deaths in Iraq. That was still far higher than the 2,754 seen in Afghanistan that year. The statistics for Iraq are so much higher that it can only be assumed that it is deadlier than Afghanistan. 2011 might be the only year that the two were close, because Iraq had around 1,000 more deaths then, which is roughly how many Iraqi police are killed annually. The reason why Iraq still has far higher death counts is because of the change in tactics taken by the country’s militants. After the civil war ended in 2008, the majority of the public was tired of fighting. That led to many turning on militants, which eventually ended most of the insurgency. The remnants have now increasingly turned to terrorist bombings in an attempt to undermine the government and restart the sectarian conflict. That’s shown in the fact that Iraq Body Count recorded 7.3 people killed per day in suicide or car bombings compared to 5.0 by gunfire in 2012. Iraq provides plenty of targets, because 66% of the population is urban. Afghanistan has a thriving insurgency, but the country is mostly rural. Only 23% of the population lives in cities there. Much of the fighting occurs out in the country and in small towns where the population is more spread out. Overall, there are far fewer opportunities to kill large numbers of people each year in Afghanistan than in Iraq.
Comparison of Deaths In Afghanistan and Iraq 2007-2012

Afghanistan Civilian Deaths
Iraq Civilian & Police Deaths

Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from different forms of violence. In Afghanistan, the insurgency is mostly fighting the government and Western forces, along with targeting public workers. In Iraq, civilians are the main victims of attacks as militants there are trying to stoke tensions amongst the Shiites to restart the civil war, and have largely given up directly confronting the police and army. Mass casualty bombings occur far more often in Iraq as a result. With large urban populations these acts of terrorism usually take a far higher toll than they do in Afghanistan. That accounts for why Iraq remains a deadlier place than Afghanistan.


CIA, The World Factbook

Iraq Body Count

United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, “Afghanistan civilian casualty figures drop for the first time in 6 years,” 2/19/13

This Day In Iraqi History - May 21 Treaty of Arzurum set line between Ottoman and Persian empires with Iraq as border area

  1847 Treaty of Arzurum tried to set border between Ottoman Empire and Persia Gave Sulaymaniya to Ottomans Shatt al-Ara...