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PLoS Med. 2011 Feb 15;8(2):e1000415. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000415.

Violent deaths of Iraqi civilians, 2003-2008: analysis by perpetrator, weapon, time, and location.

Author information

1
Health Service and Population Research Department, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London, United Kingdom. MJHHicks@aol.com

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Armed violence is a major public health and humanitarian problem in Iraq. In this descriptive statistical analysis we aimed to describe for the first time Iraqi civilian deaths caused by perpetrators of armed violence during the first 5 years of the Iraq war: over time; by weapon used; by region (governorate); and by victim demographics.

METHODS AND FINDINGS:

We analyzed the Iraq Body Count database of 92,614 Iraqi civilian direct deaths from armed violence occurring from March 20, 2003 through March 19, 2008, of which Unknown perpetrators caused 74% of deaths (n = 68,396), Coalition forces 12% (n = 11,516), and Anti-Coalition forces 11% (n = 9,954). We analyzed the subset of 60,481 civilian deaths from 14,196 short-duration events of lethal violence to link individual civilian deaths to events involving perpetrators and their methods. One-third of civilian violent death was from extrajudicial executions by Unknown perpetrators; quadratic regression shows these deaths progressively and disproportionately increased as deaths from other forms of violence increased across Iraq's governorates. The highest average number of civilians killed per event in which a civilian died were in Unknown perpetrator suicide bombings targeting civilians (19 per lethal event) and Coalition aerial bombings (17 per lethal event). In temporal analysis, numbers of civilian deaths from Coalition air attacks, and woman and child deaths from Coalition forces, peaked during the invasion. We applied a Woman and Child "Dirty War Index" (DWI), measuring the proportion of women and children among civilian deaths of known demographic status, to the 22,066 civilian victims identified as men, women, or children to indicate relatively indiscriminate perpetrator effects. DWI findings suggest the most indiscriminate effects on women and children were from Unknown perpetrators using mortar fire (DWI  = 79) and nonsuicide vehicle bombs (DWI  = 54) and from Coalition air attacks (DWI  = 69). Coalition forces had higher Woman and Child DWIs than Anti-Coalition forces, with no evidence of decrease over 2003-2008, for all weapons combined and for small arms gunfire, specifically.

CONCLUSIONS:

Most Iraqi civilian violent deaths during 2003-2008 of the Iraq war were inflicted by Unknown perpetrators, primarily through extrajudicial executions that disproportionately increased in regions with greater numbers of violent deaths. Unknown perpetrators using suicide bombs, vehicle bombs, and mortars had highly lethal and indiscriminate effects on the Iraqi civilians they targeted. Deaths caused by Coalition forces of Iraqi civilians, women, and children peaked during the invasion period, with relatively indiscriminate effects from aerial weapons. Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.

PMID:
21358813
PMCID:
PMC3039690
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pmed.1000415
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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