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Research analyses violent deaths of Iraqi civilians

Posted on 16/02/2011
Car bomb

A car bombing in Baghdad

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

Professor Michael Spagat from Royal Holloway, University of London, Madelyn Hsiao-Rei Hicks from King’s College London, and Iraq Body Count (IBC) analysed data from 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 organizations, 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 through to 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, 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.

Professor Spagat, from the Department of Economics at Royal Holloway, said: "To me our most striking result takes the form of a dog that didn't bark.  We found no evidence of improvement over time in what we call the "Woman & Child Dirty War Index" for Coalition forces.  That is, the fraction of women and children amongst all Iraqi civilian men, women and children reported killed by Coalition forces does not appear to decline between 2003 and 2008." 



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