Iraq – violent deaths and persons unknown

The Iraq body count is no longer considered newsworthy among those politically opposed to the 2003 invasion, especially given that the evidence points away from imperialist invaders as being the root cause of Iraq’s current ills. But science doesn’t work like that, and the facts continue to be analysed and discussed by those who care about such things.

A new paper from Royal Holloway, University of London economist Michael Spagat and psychiatrist Madelyn Hsiao-Rei Hicks, together with colleagues at Yale University and the data gathering organisation Iraq Body Count, provides a detailed assessment of violent deaths of civilians arising from the second Gulf War and its aftermath.

Hicks and her colleagues analysed over 90,000 civilian deaths which occurred as a result of armed violence between March 2003 and March 2008, and found that most of the deaths were inflicted by unknown perpetrators, primarily through extrajudicial executions, suicide bombs, vehicle bombs and mortars. Civilian deaths due to international military forces peaked during the 2003 invasion.

What is most interesting about this study is its use of a metric known as the Dirty War Index (DWI), which indicates the scale of indiscriminate killing by extracting from the death toll the proportion of women and children casualties. The most indiscriminate effects on women and children were from unknown perpetrators firing mortars (DWI=79) and employing vehicle bombs (DWI=54). Coalition air attacks resulted in a DWI of 69, and coalition forces were responsible for a higher overall DWI than insurgents/terrorists for all weapons combined, including small arms gunfire, with no decrease over the study period.

The paper is pretty grim reading, as you might expect, and no-one gets off lightly in the analysis.

Further reading

Hicks et al., “Violent deaths of Iraqi civilians, 2003–2008: analysis by perpetrator, weapon, time, and location”, PLoS Medicine 8(2), e1000415 (2011)