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Analysis of Violent Deaths of Iraqi Civilians

15 February 2011 

There were over 90,000 civilian deaths as a result of armed violence in Iraq from 2003-2008, according to a paper published in this week’s issue of 

PLoS Medicine.

The paper provides the most detailed assessment so 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 between March 20, 2003 through March 19, 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, of women and children, and of Iraqi civilians from air attacks, peaked during the invasion in 2003.

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 follow the link

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