Operation Iraqi Freedom: Iraqi casualties

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This article is part of SourceWatch and Congresspedia coverage of the
Bush administration's war in Iraq
Main article:

Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the matter of Iraqi casualties -- a body count, that is the number of Iraqis killed in action (KIA) -- has not been forthcoming from U.S. military officials.

"We don't do body counts." -- General Tommy R. Franks, U.S. Central Command.

Also see "Iraqi Body Count project" in the Wikipedia.[1]

Sectarian deathcount methodology 2007

Multi-National Force-Iraq's methodology for calculating a sectarian death count "identifies a number of factors, necessarily subjective, that help analysts determine whether an attack or a death should be considered sectarian. Ethno-sectarian violence is defined as violence 'conducted by one ethnic/religious group against another ethnic/religious group, where the primary motivation for the event is based on ethnic or religious reasons.' MNF-I analysts consider the location of the attack -- whether it took place in a mixed area or a homogeneous one -- and the type of attack in order to determine ethnic or sectarian violence.

"Interestingly, attacks against 'same-sect civilians,' U.S. forces, the Iraqi government or Iraqi security forces 'are excluded and not defined as sectarian attacks.' So even though Sunni insurgent groups loathe the Shiite-controlled government, insurgent attacks on it aren't considered sectarian violence.

"Additionally, MNF-I calculates that the use of suicide vests, car bombs and IEDs strongly indicate Sunni perpetrators; and reasons that attacks using those methods on 'medical centers, market places or religious symbols, mosques, religious gatherings, stores/restaurants, and housing areas' typically indicate sectarian violence, since those entities are primarily used by 'one ethnic/sectarian group.' MNF-I acknowledges that in these attacks 'there may have been Sunnis killed or injured,' and though it says it excludes 'same-sect civilians' from the tally, these are counted as sectarian attacks.

"For executions, murders and kidnappings -- situations in which sectarianism may be difficult to determine -- MNF-I says it uses 'host nation' reporting in addition to its own. Many media and non-governmental organizations consider information on casualties released by the Iraqi ministries to be self-serving, misleading or contradictory," Spencer Ackerman reported September 21, 2007, for TPMmuckraker.[2]

Also see the "MNF-I Ethno-sectarian Violence Methodology" posted in the Talking Points Memo Document Collection.[3]

Two-year anniversary 2005

March 19, 2005, marked the second anniversary of the shock and awe phase of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. FAIR reported March 21, 2005, on the media outlets who "took stock of the war's death toll," although FAIR opines that the "national newscasts undercounted the most dramatic loss of life: the deaths of Iraqi civilians."

For example, FAIR cites the March 18, 2005, CBS Evening News report by Byron Pitts, who said "Today, U.S. deaths number more than 1,500. There are no exact figures for Iraqi fatalities, but estimates are for every American killed, 11 Iraqis died.'"

"In other words," FAIR states, "more than 16,500 Iraqi deaths."

The estimate given March 18, 2005, by NBC's Brian Williams was "slightly higher": 1,513 American military personnel killed, 11,344 injured, "and many of those are amputees." As for estimates of the Iraqi death toll, he said that they are "hard to come by officially, but the civilian toll is thought to range from 17,000 to nearly 20,000 dead and beyond."

Although ABC World News Tonight "did not appear to offer a similar count," Peter Jennings reported March 3, 2005, that "There are no official numbers of Iraqi civilian casualties, but Iraqi Body Count, an independent web-site that compiles media reports of the deaths there, says as many as 18,000 Iraqis may have been killed."

FAIR writes that, "According to a study published in the respected British medical journal The Lancet [October 29, 2004], about 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the war. The majority of deaths were due to violence, primarily as a result of U.S.-led military action," although "one of the researchers on the project said that the estimate is likely a conservative one," according to the October 29, 2004, New York Times.

FAIR concludes that "It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media."[4]

A change in reporting: November 2003

Some change apparently began after November 2003, the deadliest month of fighting in Iraq to date, "with 111 members of the U.S.-led coalition killed."

Patrick J. McDonnell wrote in the December 2, 2003 Los Angeles Times[5]

"...it seemed clear that the change was part of an overall effort to present American forces in a more dynamic and assertive manner -- not as a plodding occupying army taking steady casualties without inflicting damage.
"'We've been killing and capturing bushels of these guys, but no one was talking about it,' said one senior military officer, who asked that his name not be used but was delighted with the new approach. 'This is a conscious change in policy…. For a while there it was beginning to look like only Americans were being killed.'
"The shift comes as tens of thousands of U.S. troops have mounted high-profile offensives across the nation, with tough monikers like Operation Iron Hammer and Operation Ivy Cyclone II. Spokesmen have made forceful remarks about insurgents facing certain death or capture if they attack U.S. troops."
"There is still no running total of how many insurgent combatants have been killed by U.S. forces in Iraq. ... The Army is only providing day-to-day numbers for each fight in which an attacker is killed. Still, the insurgent losses tend to overwhelm U.S. casualty totals."


Related SourceWatch articles

In particular see:


  1. Iraq Body Count project in the Wikipedia.
  2. Spencer Ackerman, "Exclusive: Petraeus' Sectarian Death Count Methodology," TPMmuckraker, September 21, 2007.
  3. "MNF-I Ethno-sectarian Violence Methodology," Talking Points Memo Document Collection, September 21, 2007.
  4. "Counting the Iraqi dead," FAIR, March 21, 2005.
  5. Patrick J. McDonnell, "US Reports Insurgent Death Toll," Los Angeles Times (Common Dreams), December 2, 2003.


External articles



  • David Randall, "The Terrible Human Cost of Bush and Blair's Military Adventure: 10,000 Civilian Deaths. UK and US authorities discourage counting of deaths as a result of the conflict. But academics are monitoring the toll and have identified a grim new milestone, ... making the continuing conflict the most deadly war for non-combatants waged by the West since the Vietnam war more than 30 years ago," Independent (UK) (Common Dreams), February 8, 2004. Also see IraqBodyCount.net[2]
  • Lakshmi, "10,000 Iraqi Civilians Dead," AlterNet, February 10, 2004.
  • Brian Bender, "Report says military distorts war deaths," Boston Globe, February 18, 2004: "By refusing to make public its estimates of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has undercut international support for the US campaigns in those countries and has made the postwar stabilization of the two societies more difficult, according to an independent report to be released today [by the Project on Defense Alternatives, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington], that accuses the Pentagon of appearing indifferent to the civilian cost of war."
  • Daniel Cooney, "5,500 Iraqis Killed, Morgue Records Show," Associated Press (China Daily), May 23, 2004: "More than 5,500 Iraqis died violently in just Baghdad and three provinces in the first 12 months of the occupation, an Associated Press survey found. The toll from both criminal and political violence ran dramatically higher than violent deaths before the war, according to statistics from morgues. ... There are no reliable figures for places like Fallujah and Najaf that have seen surges in fighting since early April. ... Indeed, there is no precise count for Iraq (news - web sites) as a whole on how many people have been killed, nor is there a breakdown of deaths caused by the different sorts of attacks. The U.S. military, the occupation authority and Iraqi government agencies say they don't have the ability to track civilian deaths."


  • comw.org
  • Iraq Bodycount.net.