The issue of the total death toll resulting from the invasion and its aftermath is highly controversial. The Labour government disputed estimates produced by non-government organisations but did not produce its own estimate. Given that this is the most significant direct consequence of the war, the Inquiry will need to make an assessment of this issue.
However, the public hearings have paid little attention to the issue and the Inquiry has been criticised for its apparent lack of interest.
A number of different organisations have published estimates or counts of people killed as a result of the war.
Different ways of counting
The question of how many people were killed as a result of the invasion and its aftermath must take into account both those who were killed as a direct result of war, insurgency or terrorism and those who died as an indirect result. Many studies only look at civilian deaths. Deaths indirectly resulting from the war might include those due to increased lawlessness or degradation of infrastructure and healthcare systems. Some of the disparity between estimates can be accounted for by the fact that different things are being counted.
Different surveys also have different ways of counting and have covered different time periods. Some are estimates produced on the basis of population surveys while others count recorded deaths.
Estimates and counts of the number of deaths attributable vary from 100,000 – 150,000 to over 1 million. A Wikipedia page on Casualties of the Iraq War lists many of these.
Iraq Body Count
Iraq Body Count (IBC) is a project that “records the violent civilian deaths that have resulted from the 2003 military intervention in Iraq”. It points out that its figures are not estimates but a record of actual, documented deaths. Its documentary evidence “is drawn from crosschecked media reports of violent events leading to the death of civilians, or of bodies being found, and is supplemented by the careful review and integration of hospital, morgue, NGO and official figures”. (source: Iraq Body Count website).
In October 2010 Wikileaks published nearly 400,000 leaked documents from the US military. IBC carried out an analysis of these and subsequently revised its figures.
In March 2013, to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the invasion, IBC published The War in Iraq: 10 years and counting. This stated that:
IBC has documented 112,017 – 122,438 civilian deaths from violence between 20 March 2003 and 14 March 2013.
But added that:
A complete account of violent deaths that includes Iraqi and foreign combatants (including coalition forces), as well as previously unreported civilian deaths still being extracted by IBC from the Iraq War Logs released by WikiLeaks, would include:
- 39,900 (combatants killed of all nationalities)
- 11,500 civilians (likely to be added from the Iraq War Logs)
yielding about 174,000 as the number of people documented killed in violence in Iraq since 2003.
Criticism of the Labour government’s failure to count casualties
In July 2010 Action on Armed Violence published a report “A State of Ignorance” (pdf) which argued that it was possible to reach an estimate of civilian casualties but that the previous government had falsely claimed that it could not do so. The report was submitted to the Inquiry.
Discussion at the Inquiry
The Digest is aware of only two occasions on which the issue has been discussed, briefly – once during Tony Blair’s appearance and once in a session with former armed forces minister Adam Ingram.
Iraq Body Count Criticism of the Inquiry
In August 2010 Iraq Body Count issued a press release criticising the Inquiry for a “derisory” lack of attention to the issue. It published correspondence with the Inquiry in which it offered to provide evidence but Sir John Chilcot declined. Chilcot said that: “The Inquiry Team were already aware of the work of the Iraq Body Count and we have studied some of the information produced by the IBC.”