Global Policy Forum

Mortality in Iraq


mortality-reuters-falehkheiberPicture Credit: Faleh Kheiber/Reuters

Very large number of Iraqis have died under the occupation and the rate of mortality has risen sharply. While demographic surveys, body counts using daily news reports, data from morgues and hospitals, and epidemiological studies have estimated the number of deaths in different ways and put forward a wide range of figures, all show that Iraq's population has paid - and continues to pay - a steep price.

GPF Perspectives |Major Mortality Studies | Articles | Links

GPF Perspectives

Read GPF Report Section on Mortality in Iraq (June 2007)

Major Mortality Studies


The Lancet: "Mortality after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: a Cross-Sectional Cluster Sample Survey" (October 21, 2006)

The second Lancet mortality study estimates that 655,000 excess deaths occurred during the occupation from March 2003 through June 2006.

The Lancet: "Mortality Before and After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Cluster Sample Survey" (November 20, 2004)

The first Lancet study estimates that about 98,000 excess deaths (deaths above the pre-2003 mortality rate) occurred in the 18 month period from March 2003 to September 2004. The report concluded that "violence was the primary cause of death" since the invasion and "mainly attributed [it] to Coalition forces."

UN Development Programme: Iraq Living Conditions Survey (2004)

This wide-ranging survey measures living conditions in Iraq during April 2002 and April 2004. The survey includes a question on deaths in households: it was found that 24,000 "war-related" deaths had occurred in the period between March 2003 to April 2004. (UNDP)


2011| 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003



The Daily Struggle of Iraq's Widows of War (November 9, 2011)

As Iraq emerges from close to nine years of war, an estimated two million widowed women are part of the humanitarian crisis left behind. They are left to struggle with raising children alone, with little or no money or family support. Twenty-three percent of the oil-rich country’s population lives under the poverty line, of which more than half are women. The International Committee of the Red Cross sees the women-headed households as among the most vulnerable in Iraq today. (Reuters)


Iraq Criticizes Attacks by American Troops (June 30, 2008)

While the US and Iraq are negotiating a long-term security agreement, US troops have killed a number of Iraqi civilians in two highly publicized incidents. The shootings happened during a delicate time because the White House is demanding the right to conduct military operations and detain suspects in Iraq, while retaining immunity for US soldiers. The shootings may prompt the Iraqi government to insist that the coalition arrest its soldiers and yield to Iraqi law. (New York Times)

Home to Many Widows (June 18, 2008)

Iraqi women suffer immensely from the US occupation. Research groups estimate that the conflict has produced a large number of widows. Iraqi authorities provide a small donation when their husbands die, but with little access to work outside of the home, widows struggle emotionally and financially. An Iraqi social worker suggests the Iraqi government offer a monthly payment to help the women and their families survive. (Inter Press Service)

Iraq Conflict Has Killed a Million Iraqis: Survey (January 30, 2008)

A revised survey by Opinion Research Business (ORB) conducted from August to September 2007 reaffirms earlier research that over one million Iraqis have died since the US-led invasion in 2003. Estimates of mortality in Iraq have been subject to intense debate, however, ORB's director Allan Hyde, states the group "has no objective other than to record as accurately as possible the number of deaths among the Iraqi population as a result of the invasion and ensuing conflict." (Reuters)

Iraq: Civilian Deaths Massive by Any Measure (January 11, 2008)

This Inter Press Service article highlights a joint survey by the World Health Organization and the Iraqi Ministry of Health that claims approximately 151,000 Iraqis have died between March 2003 and June 2006. Researchers found that violence was the leading cause of death for Iraqi men between 15 and 59 since the US-led invasion. The US government does not monitor Iraqi violence-related deaths and US President George Bush carelessly suggested that the Iraqi death toll was around 30,000.



Iraq Death Tolls Rivals Rwanda Genocide, Cambodian Killing Fields (September 17, 2007)

A study by the British polling firm ORB, reveals 1.2 million Iraqis have been killed since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The ORB death toll stands in stark contrast to a poll conducted in the US which shows that the US public believe only 10,000 Iraqis have been killed since 2003. Joshua Holland from AlterNet argues that the death toll in Iraq is proportional to the number of deaths in both the 1994 Rwandan genocide where 800,000 were killed, and the ‘killing fields' of Cambodia resulting in 1.7 million deaths. Despite these figures the US government, the mainstream media and occupation supporters dismiss the numbers and argue the US is preventing more deaths than they cause.

Is the US Responsible for a Million Iraqi Deaths? (September 11, 2007)

According to Just Foreign Policy, over a million Iraqis have died as a result of the US occupation. The estimate accounts for mortality since an October 2006 Lancet Study, which estimates the death of 650,000 Iraqis since the US invasion. The authors suggest the withdrawal debate is uninformed, with a poll revealing the US public believe only 10,000 Iraqis have been killed. The lack of knowledge is due in part to the underreporting of civilian deaths by US intelligence, an Iraqi government ban on journalists at the scene of bombings and Iraqi hospitals, and politically biased estimates released by the Iraqi government.

Media Silence about the Carnage in Iraq (July 5, 2007)

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died violently at the hands of coalition forces. Yet mainstream media reports of the daily fighting in Iraq often only include "brief accounts of several different operations, none of them presented as major events." This CounterPunch article warns that such coverage grossly understates the rate of non-combatant fatalities – a statistic that will likely escalate as the US military presence in Iraq expands.

US Doubles Air Attacks in Iraq (June 5, 2007)

In the first four months of 2007 alone, the US Air Force has dropped more bombs and missiles than in the whole year 2006, official figures show. The number of Iraqi civilian casualties from US airstrikes has risen sharply, with an average of more than 50 a month, according to conservative estimates. Yet, such casualties are "pale in comparison" with civilian casualties from ground combat, said a US Air Force commander. (Associated Press)

UN Report on Human Rights in Iraq Draws US Denunciation (April 26, 2007)

The US has been criticizing the UNAMI Human Rights report, which says that the security situation in Iraq is deteriorating and that the US government is holding Iraqi detainees without due process. Washington further questions the mortality data presented in the report and argues that, contrary to UN accusations, the Iraqi government has not refused to provide death toll figures, but is instead attempting to consolidate these numbers into a "verifiable system." The refusal to accept the credibility of the report suggests that the US and the Iraqi government do not want to publicly acknowledge that violence is rising in Iraq. (Washington Post)

US Officials Exclude Car Bombs in Touting Drop in Iraq Violence (April 26, 2007)

US officials have been claiming that the Baghdad Security Plan is a success, citing as evidence a decrease in the casualty count. However, these statistics do not include the deaths by car bombs and other explosive devices that have killed thousands of Iraqis since 2003. Further, much of the decline in the number of violent deaths occurred before the security plan began and was due to the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordering his Mahdi Army to stand down. According to an Iraq specialist at Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank, "since the administration keeps saying that failure is not an option they are redefining success in a way that suits them." (McClatchy)

UN Raps Iraq for Withholding "Grim" Civilian Toll (April 25, 2007)

The United Nations released a report about the situation in Iraq, criticizing the Iraqi government for refusing to provide the organization with the death toll figures and giving no explanation for that decision. According to the UN, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki feared that the mortality data would be used to "paint a very grim picture of a worsening humanitarian crisis." The Iraqi government and US officials questioned the credibility of the report, saying it contains inaccurate information. The refusal to provide such information shows the US and the Iraqi government fear that the release of this data could increase dissatisfaction with the occupation. (AlertNet)

Iraqi Deaths Survey "Was Robust" (March 26, 2007)

When the Lancet published its second mortality survey estimating at 655,000 the number of excess deaths since the invasion, the US and UK governments have dismissed the study and questioned its accuracy. However, the BBC has obtained a confidential memo, in which British Ministry of Defence's Chief Scientific Adviser qualifies the survey's methods as "close to best practice" and the study design as "robust."

The Number (February 2007)

The Iraq mortality survey published in October 2006 in The Lancet – a leading British medical journal – estimated that 654,965 Iraqis had died "who would not be dead were it not for the war." Critics dismissed the research methodology used as flawed, and rejected this jarring statistic, along with its implications. Debate over the limitations of the study detract from the more important, underlying issue: the massive cost in Iraqi lives of the US-led war. (Johns Hopkins Magazine)

The Battle to Save Iraq's Children (January 19, 2007)

100 British and Iraqi doctors wrote a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair criticizing the terrible shortages of Iraqi hospitals and the lack of basic medicines, which has caused the deaths of hundreds of children. According to Save the Children, 59 in 1,000 newborn babies are dying in Iraq , one of the highest mortality rates in the world. The doctors urge the UK and the US to respect the Geneva and the Hague Conventions, which require the occupiers to address the medical needs of the population. (The Independent)


Iraq Aims to Limit Mortality Data (October 20, 2006)

Following instructions from the government, Iraq 's health ministry will stop providing mortality figures to the United Nations. According to this Washington Post article, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seeks to exercise greater control over the country's "politically sensitive death toll" by preventing UN officials from collecting mortality figures from hospitals and morgues. Maliki's decision comes after a team of Iraqi and US epidemiologists estimated that 650,000 have died from violence in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.

Iraqi Dead May Total 600,000, Study Says (October 11, 2006)

US and Iraqi public health researchers estimate that violence has claimed the lives of as many as 600,000 civilians in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion. The estimate, based on a survey of 1,849 Iraqi families throughout Iraq , gives a more complete picture of the "burden of conflict on an entire population," than morgue figures. The US government criticizes the study, but does not release its own figures, giving only percentage comparisons in quarterly accounting reports to Congress. ( New York Times )

Iraqi Death Toll Rises Above 100 per Day, UN Says (July 19, 2006)

14,338 civilians died violently in Iraq in the first six months of 2006, according to a UN report. Sectarian violence claimed the lives of more than 100 Iraqis per day in July alone, with the "overwhelming majority" of the deaths occurring in Baghdad . These totals, based on figures provided by the Iraqi Ministry of Health and Baghdad 's central morgue, show an "enormous increase over figures published by media organizations." The US government and military have not made public any specific figures on Iraqi civilian casualties. ( New York Times )

What's An Iraqi Life Worth? (July 9, 2006)

Though tallying every US service member killed in Iraq , the Pentagon has publicly professed no interest in knowing the exact number of Iraqi civilian casualties. US forces have killed "tens of thousands" of noncombatant Iraqis, "exceeding by an order of magnitude" the number of US troops killed in the war. Any action resulting in Iraqi civilian deaths alienates the very people the US claims to protect, undermines the Bush administration's "narrative of liberation" and suggests that the US considers Iraqi civilians "less than fully human." ( Washington Post )

If Wanton Murder Is Essential to the US Campaign in Iraq, it's Time to Leave (June 26, 2006)

In addition to atrocities committed in Haditha, Balad, Ishaqi and Hamdania, US forces have killed "untold thousands" of Iraqi civilians in conditions considered "insufficiently atrocious" to be worthy of investigation. These incidents are the "natural and inevitable consequence" of the occupation, in which dead women, children and disabled people "are the price you pay for being invaded." As this Guardian article states, those responsible for such acts remain in the White House, while the many embroiled in the conflict are "brutalized or murdered."

Iraq Civilian Death Toll "Highest" Since End of War' (March 9, 2006)

According to a study by Iraq Body Count (IBC), 2005 has been the deadliest year yet of the war in Iraq . From March 20, 2005 until March 1, 2006, IBC estimates that 12,617 Iraqis were killed, up from 11,312 the previous year. While most Iraqi casualties were initially attributable to US forces, sectarian violence has led to a growing number of Iraqi casualties. As IBC co-founder John Sloboda points out, "the initial act that sparked this cycle of violence is the illegal US-led invasion" which resulted in 7,312 civilian deaths in the first 42 days alone. ( Scotsman )


39,000 Iraqis Killed in Fighting Since March '03 - New Study (July 12, 2005)

The Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies has concluded that armed violence killed many more Iraqis since March 2003 than anyone previously thought. Researchers used the data compiled by the respected British medical journal, The Lancet, to reach their findings. They said that other analysts tend to underestimate casualty figures due to their reliance on "estimates based on government and media accounts of wars." (Reuters)

Study Says Civilian Casualties on the Rise After Elections (March 21, 2005)

According to Iraq Body Count, an independent organization monitoring the human cost of the war, the civilian death rate in Iraq increased after the elections, with an average "of up to 21 killed each day" in February 2005. The organization's figures also reveal that "the number of violent incidents has soared" since February 2004. Iraq Body Count currently places the number of civilian casualties since the war started between 7,061 and 19,432. (Gulf News )

Crime as Lethal as Warfare in Iraq (March 20, 2005)

Crime accounts for a significant number of civilian deaths in Iraq. According to the Los Angeles Times, officials in Baghdad's central morgue counted "8,035 deaths by unnatural causes in 2004, up from 6,012 the previous year." Of these, some "60% are caused by gunshot wounds" and "most are unrelated to the insurgency." Iraqi police have witnessed a steep increase in organized criminal activity dealing in arms, drugs and kidnappings. As the acting director of Baghdad's central morgue put it, "it seems like the crime rates are increasing day to day."

Global Public Health Experts Say Failure to Count Iraqi Casualties Is Irresponsible (March 11, 2005)

Public health experts from around the world are complaining that they are unable to "obtain validated, reliable information about the extent of mortality and morbidity since the invasion of Iraq ." They urge both governments to immediately commission a "comprehensive, independent inquiry" into Iraqi casualties, and call the joint US/UK failure to make any effort to monitor Iraqi casualties "wholly irresponsible." ( British Medical Journal )


US Has Killed 100,000 in Iraq: The Lancet (October 29, 2004)

A British medical journal reports over 100, 000 Iraqi civilian casualties since Saddam Hussein's fall on April 9, 2003. The amount of casualties is significantly higher than previous estimates and suggests that the US has already killed a third as many Iraqi civilians in 18 months as Saddam did in 24 years. ( Informed Comment )

Iraqi Group Claims Over 37,000 Civilian Toll (July 31, 2004)

A survey conducted by the Iraqi group People's Kifah, contends that US-led forces killed at least 37,000 civilians between March and October 2003. The figure is twice that of Arab and Western media estimates, which put the civilian death toll at 15,000 to 20,000. ( al-Jazeera )



The Wages of War: Iraqi Combatant and Noncombatant Fatalities in the 2003 Conflict (October 28, 2003)

A study from Project on Defense Alternatives analyzes US combat data, battlefield press reports and Iraqi hospital surveys to conclude a toll of 11,000-15,000 Iraqi casualties. The study finds that civilian casualties comprise 30% of the total. Click here for the full report.

Links and Resources


Iraq Body Count

Iraq Body Count provides a database of civilian deaths that have been reported in at least two English-language news sources.

Iraq Analysis Group: Mortality

Iraq Analysis Group analyses the findings of major mortality studies and the reactions they have generated. IAG explains the methodology used by the MIT/Bloomberg study, and compares its results to other estimates.

Brookings Institution Iraq Index

The Brookings Institutions publishes a monthly Iraq Index, which compiles economic, public opinion, and security data, including Coalition and civilian deaths in Iraq.

UNAMI Bi-Monthly Human Rights Reports

UNAMI bi-monthly reports cover a wide range of issues affecting human rights in Iraq, including the number of civilian deaths imputable to violence during the two months covered. UNAMI figures are based on morgue counts and information provided by the Iraqi Ministry of Health. In December 2006, UNAMI estimated that over 34,000 civilians had been killed during the year 2006, bringing the yearly average of civilian deaths to about 100 a day.

Iraq Coalition Casualty Count

Iraq Coalition Casualty Count produces figures based on media reports of military and civilian deaths in Iraq.




FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.