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Iraq war civilian deaths

Posted on 16/02/2011
Iraq

A paper published in this week’s issue of PLoS Medicine provides the most detailed assessment thus far of civilian deaths in the course of the recent Iraq war.

Madelyn Hsiao-Rei Hicks from the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP), King’s College London, and colleagues analysed data from Iraq Body Count (IBC), a nongovernmental project that collates media reports of deaths of individual Iraqi civilians and cross-checks these reports with data from hospitals, morgues, nongovernmental organisations, and official figures. 

The authors studied 92,614 Iraqi civilian direct deaths from the IBC database which occurred as a result of armed violence between 20 March 2003 and 19 March 2008. The authors found that most Iraqi civilian violent deaths during this time were inflicted by unknown perpetrators, primarily through extrajudicial executions which were disproportionately increased in Iraqi governorates with greater numbers of violent deaths. Unknown perpetrators also used suicide bombs, vehicle bombs and mortars, which had highly lethal and indiscriminate effects on Iraqi civilians. Deaths caused by Coalition forces of Iraqi civilians, women and children, and of Iraqi civilians from air attacks, peaked during the invasion in 2003.

Analysis
Detailed analysis of civilian deaths during wars can improve the understanding of the impact on vulnerable subgroups in the population, such as women and children. In order to assess this impact further, the researchers calculated the proportion of women and children among civilian deaths identified as men, women or children. 

This proportion is termed the “Dirty War Index” (DWI), and indicates the scale of indiscriminate killing in a conflict. The most indiscriminate effects on women and children in Iraq were from unknown perpetrators firing mortars (DWI = 79) and using non-suicide vehicle bombs (DWI = 54), and from Coalition air attacks (DWI = 69). Coalition forces had a higher DWI than anti-coalition forces for all weapons combined, and for small arms gunfire, with no decrease over the study period.

Dr Hicks, an Honourary Lecturer from the IoP, said: ‘Our findings on civilian deaths from perpetrators and their weapons during five years of the Iraq war illustrate the feasibility as well as the public health and humanitarian potential of detailed tracking of war’s effects on a civilian population.

‘Violent deaths of Iraqi civilians, 2003-2008: Analysis by perpetrator, weapon, time, and location’ is published today in PLoS One. To read the paper in full, please visit the PLoS Medicine website

Notes to editors

Kings College London
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King’s has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.

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King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King’s Health Partners. King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: www.kingshealthpartners.org

For further information please contact Erin Seymour, Institute of Psychiatry at King’s, on 0207 848 5377 or email erin.seymour@kcl.ac.uk

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