Iraq Body Count project

Iraq Body Count project

The Iraq Body Count project (IBC) is one of several efforts to record civilian deaths attributable to coalition and insurgent military action, sectarian violence and criminal violence in Iraq since the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq. This refers to excess civilian deaths caused by criminal action resulting from the breakdown in law and order which followed the coalition invasion. The IBC has a media-centered approach to counting and documenting the deaths. The IBC admits that their count is an undercount due to their stringent requirement for the death to be recorded by the media (see below). Other estimates for civilian deaths are higher. See Casualties of the Iraq War.

The project uses reports from English-language news media (including Arabic media translated into English) to compile a running total. In its "Quick-FAQ" [ [ "Iraq Body Count"] . Click "Quick-FAQ" sidebar link to see popup Quick-FAQ.] the IBC states: "It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media. That is the sad nature of war." The group is staffed by volunteers consisting mainly of academics and activists based in the UK and the USA. The project was founded by John Sloboda and Hamit Dardagan. The IBC project does not count any deaths other than those reported in the media. [ [ "Civilian Toll in Iraq Is Placed at Nearly 25,000"] . By Hassan M. Fattah. July 20, 2005. "New York Times."]

Project statement

The IBC overview page states:

:"This is an ongoing human security project which maintains and updates the world’s only independent and comprehensive public database of media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq that have resulted from the 2003 military intervention by the USA and its allies. The count includes civilian deaths caused by coalition military action and by military or paramilitary responses to the coalition presence (e.g. insurgent and terrorist attacks). It also includes excess civilian deaths caused by criminal action resulting from the breakdown in law and order which followed the coalition invasion." [ Iraq Body Count. Background and overview.] ]

The project quotes the top US general in Iraq, Tommy Franks, as saying "We don't do body counts [] ". The quotation was from a discussion of the Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan and was referring to counts of enemy soldiers killed, in the context of using enemy body counts as a measure of military success. The website, which omits the context of the quote, could be said to conflate the meaning of "enemy body count" with "civilian deaths caused" and to imply that the US is not interested in the number of civilian deaths its military operations cause.

Biographical information of group members is shown on the group's website. []


The IBC overview page states: "Casualty figures are derived from a comprehensive survey of online media reports from recognized sources. Where these sources report differing figures, the range (a minimum and a maximum) are given. This method is also used to deal with any residual uncertainty about the civilian or non-combatant status of the dead. All results are independently reviewed and error-checked by at least three members of the Iraq Body Count project team before publication."

Project volunteers sample news stories to extract minimum and maximum numbers of civilian casualties. Each incident reported at least by two independent news sources is included in the Iraq Body Count database.

IBC is purely a civilian count. IBC defines civilian to exclude Iraqi soldiers, insurgents, suicide bombers or any others directly engaged in war-related violence. A "min" and "max" figure are used where reports differ on the numbers killed, or where the civilian status of the dead is uncertain.

IBC is not an "estimate" of total civilian deaths based on projections or other forms of extrapolation. It is a compilation of documented deaths, as reported by English-language media worldwide. See the sources section farther down for more info on the media and their sources.

Some have suggested bias of sources could affect the count. If a number is quoted from a pro-Iraqi source, and the Allies fail to give a sufficiently specific alternate number, the pro-Iraqi figure is entered into IBC's database as both a maximum and a minimum. The same works vice versa. The project argues that these potential over- and undercounts by different media sources would tend to balance out.

IBC's online database shows the newspaper, magazine or website where each number is reported, and the date on which it was reported. However, this has been criticized as insufficient because it typically does not list the original sources for the information: that is, the NGO, journalist or government responsible for the number presented. Hence, any inherent bias due to the lack of reliable reports from independent or Allied sources is not readily available to the reader.


The IBC overview page states: "Our sources include public domain newsgathering agencies with web access. A list of some core sources is given below. ... For a source to be considered acceptable to this project it must comply with the following standards: (1) site updated at least daily; (2) all stories separately archived on the site, with a unique url (see Note 1 below); (3) source widely cited or referenced by other sources; (4) English Language site; (5) fully public (preferably free) web-access. ... Note 1. Some sites remove items after a given time period, change their urls, or place them in archives with inadequate search engines. For this reason it is project policy that urls of sources are NOT published on the iraqbodycount site."

Primary sources used by the media are listed in the 2003 to 2005 IBC report. The sources are followed by the number of deaths reported from that source.

*Mortuaries. 8,913
*Medics. 4,846
*Iraqi officials. 4,376
*Eyewitnesses. 3,794
*Police. 3,588
*Relatives. 2,780
*US-Coalition. 2,423
*Journalists. 1,976
*NGOs. 732
*Friends/Associates. 596
*Other. 196

English-language versus Arabic-language media sources

The IBC report for March 2003 to March 2005Iraq Body Count. PDFlink| [ "A dossier of civilian casualties 2003-2005"] |650 KiB . Report covers from March 20, 2003 to March 19, 2005, based on data available by June 14, 2005.] states: "We have not made use of Arabic or other non English language sources, except where these have been published in English. The reasons are pragmatic. We consider fluency in the language of the published report to be a key requirement for accurate analysis, and English is the only language in which all team members are fluent. It is possible that our count has excluded some victims as a result."

Independent journalist Dahr Jamail spent over eight months reporting from occupied Iraq. In a January 15, 2006 email quoted in a January 26, 2006 "Media Lens" article"Media Lens." January 26, 2006. [ "Paved with good intentions - Iraq Body Count - Part 2"] .] he wrote: "Due to their [IBC] sources and lack of adequate Arab media in them (who do a much better job of reporting Iraqi civilian casualty counts), it is heavily biased towards western outlets which have from the beginning done a dismal (at best) job of reporting on the air war and consequent civ. casualties."

Stephen Soldz, who runs the website [ "Iraq Occupation and Resistance Report"] , writes in a February 5, 2006 "ZNet" articleStephen Soldz. [ "When Promoting Truth Obscures the Truth: More on Iraqi Body Count and Iraqi Deaths"] . "ZNet," February 5, 2006.] (in reference to the 2003-2005 IBC report): "Given, as indicated in that report, that ten media outlets provided over half the IBC reports and three agencies [Associated Press, Agence France Presse, and Reuters] provided over a third of the reports, there is simply no reason to believe that even a large fraction of Iraqi civilian combat-related deaths are ever reported in the Western media, much less, have the two independent reports necessary to be recorded in the IBC database. Do these few agencies really have enough Iraqi reporters on retainer to cover the country? Are these reporters really able comprehensively to cover deaths in insurgent-held parts of Iraq? How likely is it that two reporters from distinct media outlets are going to be present at a given site where deaths occur? How many of the thousands of US bombings have been investigated by any reporter, Western or Iraqi? Simply to state these questions is to emphasize the fragmentary nature of the reporting that occurs and thus the limitations of the IBC database."

In an April 28, 2006 BBC "Newsnight" interview [ [ "Interview transcript - John Sloboda"] . BBC "Newsnight." April 28, 2006.] the IBC project's co-founder John Sloboda, in response to these and similar arguments, has said: "we have never had over the entire three years, anyone show us an Arabic source that reports deaths that we haven't already got. In three years. In thousands of incidents. There are organisations that translate Arabic reports into English, and we see their data."

IBC monitors many Arabic sources that either publish in English as well as Arabic, or are translated by other sources. Some of these include:

Al Arabiya TV, Al-Furat, Al-Ittihad, Al Jazeera (Web), Al Jazeera TV, Al Sharqiyah TV, Al-Taakhi, Al-Bawaba, Arab News, Arabic News, Asharq Al Awsat, As-Sabah, Arab Times, Bahrain News Agency, Bahrain Times. [ "IBC sources"]

Web counters

The IBC overview page states: "Results and totals are continually updated and made immediately available here and on various IBC web counters which may be freely displayed on any website or homepage, where they are automatically updated without further intervention."

Body count

Deaths in the Iraq war.

[Note: The figures above are those that appeared in real time on the IBC counters on or around those dates. However, those in the first line were increased radically in the following days and weeks. IBC's current Max figure for the entire invasion phase, up to 30 April 2003, now stands at 7,299. Because IBC performs analyses (eg., accounts for multiple reports, eliminates overlaps, etc.), there is always a delay between the date on which incidents occur and the addition of their numbers to the IBC database. Another factor is that some reports emerge weeks or even months later - for instance the emergence of Baghdad city morgue reports for 2005 in early 2006. The 6 December line above was taken from the IBC total as it stood on 6 December 2005, but the emergence of the morgue figures later increased IBC's figures for that period to 31,818 - 35,747.]


The Iraq Body Count project states for the week ending December 31, 2006: [ [ "A Week in Iraq - Iraq Body Count"] . Week ending December 31, 2006.] [ "A Week in Iraq - Iraq Body Count"] . Archive of Previous Weeks in Iraq.] "It was a truly violent year, as around 24,000 civilians lost their lives in Iraq. This was a massive rise in violence: 14,000 had been killed in 2005, 10,500 in 2004 and just under 12,000 in 2003 (7,000 of them killed during the actual war, while only 5,000 killed during the ‘peace’ that followed in May 2003). In December 2006 alone around 2,800 civilians were reported killed. This week there were over 560 civilian deaths reported."

From the above quote here are IBC yearly death totals (not counting the initial 7000 invasion deaths):

*2003: 5,000
*2004: 10,500
*2005: 14,000
*2006: 24,000

March 2003 to March 2005 report.

The IBC released a report detailing the civilian deaths it had recorded between March 20, 2003 and March 19, 2005. From page 26: "The analyses in this dossier cover the first two years of the military intervention in Iraqfrom 20 March 2003 to 19 March 2005, and are based on data which was available by
14 June 2005."

The report says the US and its allies were responsible for the largest share (37%) of the 24,865 deaths. The remaining deaths were attributed to anti-occupation forces (9%), crime (36%), and unknown agents (11%).

Who did the killing?

*37%. US-led forces killed 37% of civilian victims.
*9%. Anti-occupation forces/insurgents killed 9% of civilian victims.
*36%. Post-invasion criminal violence accounted for 36% of all deaths.
*11%. Unknown agents (11%).

:Killings by anti-occupation forces, crime and unknown agents have shown a steady rise over the entire period.

Who was killed?

*24,865 civilians were reported killed in the first two years.
*Men accounted for over 80% of all civilian deaths.
*Baghdad alone recorded almost half of all deaths.

When did they die?

*30% of civilian deaths occurred during the invasion phase before 1 May 2003.
*Post-invasion, the number of civilians killed was almost twice as high in year two (11,351) as in year one (6,215).

What was the most lethal weaponry?

*Over half (53%) of all civilian deaths involved explosive devices.
*Air strikes caused most (64%) of the explosives deaths.
*Children were disproportionately affected by all explosive devices but most severely by air strikes and unexploded ordnance (including cluster bomblets).

How many were injured?

*At least 42,500 civilians were reported wounded.
*The invasion phase caused 41% of all reported injuries.
*Explosive weaponry caused a higher ratio of injuries to deaths than small arms.
*The highest wounded-to-death ratio incidents occurred during the invasion phase.


The IBC has been the most often cited source on civilian deaths in Iraq, but it has also received criticism from many sides. Some critics have focused on potential bias of sources. Others have raised concerns about the difficulty of distinguishing civilians from combatants. Others have criticized it for over or undercounting.

Some critics, often on the political right, claimed that the IBC numbers were an overcount, and that the numbers were suspect due to the antiwar bias of the IBC members. For example; the July 26, 2005 "National Review" article, "Bad Counts. An unquestioning media." [ [ "Bad Counts. An unquestioning media"] . By Stephen Spruiell, "National Review," July 26, 2005.]

Others, often on the political left, criticized media and government willingness to quote IBC figures more approvingly than the much higher estimate coming from the Lancet study that came out in October 2004.

Journalists included Lila Guterman, [ "Researchers Who Rushed Into Print a Study of Iraqi Civilian Deaths Now Wonder Why It Was Ignored"] . By Lila Guterman. "The Chronicle of Higher Education." January 27, 2005.] [ "Dead Iraqis. Why an Estimate was Ignored"] . By Lila Guterman, "Columbia Journalism Review," March/April 2005.] Andrew Cockburn, [ "How Many Iraqis Have Died Since the US Invasion in 2003?"] . By Andrew Cockburn. "CounterPunch." January 9, 2006. ] John Pilger, and George Monbiot [ [ Bringing Out the Dead"] . By George Monbiot. "The Guardian." November 8, 2005.]

In a January 27, 2005 article in "The Chronicle of Higher Education" Lila Guterman wrote:

:"The Lancet released the paper on October 29 [2004] , the Friday before the election, when many reporters were busy with political coverage. That day, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune each dedicated only about 400 words to the study and placed the articles inside their front sections, on Pages A4 and A11, respectively. (The news media in Europe gave the study much more play; many newspapers put articles about it on their front pages.) In a short article about the study on Page A8, The New York Times noted that the Iraq Body Count, a project to tally civilian deaths reported in the news media, had put the maximum death toll at around 17,000. The new study, the article said, 'is certain to generate intense controversy.' But the Times has not published any further news articles about the paper."

In late 2005 and early 2006 some on the left began criticizing IBC itself. This criticism of IBC came mainly from the media-watchdog website Media Lens that published four pieces"Media Lens." January 25, 2006. [ "Paved with good intentions - Iraq Body Count - Part 1"] .] "Media Lens." March 14, 2006. [ "Iraq Body Count refuses to respond"] .] "Media Lens." April 10, 2006. [ "Iraq Body Count. A shame becoming shameful"] .] on what they saw as the "massive bias and gaps" reflected in the IBC database and their totals. David Edwards of Media Lens had articles in other publications too. [David Edwards. "ZNet." March 14, 2006. [ "Iraq Body Count Refuses to Respond"] .]

This view of IBC was based on the belief that IBC figures are extremely low due to pro-US media bias and inadequate reporting due to its heavy (though not exclusive) reliance on Western media sources, which has led some of these critics to claim IBC should be called the "Iraq Western Media Body Count". These biases and inadequacies, they claim, mean IBC's count is low by up to a factor of 10, and that it specifically minimizes the proportion of deaths caused by US forces.

MediaLens article of January 26, 2006 states: "First, the dramatic absence of examples of mass killing by US-UK forces suggests that the low IBC toll of civilian deaths in comparison with other studies is partly explained by the fact that examples of US-UK killing are simply not being reported by the media or recorded by IBC. Visitors to the site - directed there by countless references in the same media that have acted as sources - are being given a very one-sided picture of who is doing the killing."

Stephen Soldz wrote a February 5, 2006 article titled "When Promoting Truth Obscures the Truth: More on Iraqi Body Count and Iraqi Deaths". It stated: "Of course, in conditions of active rebellion, the safer areas accessible to Western reporters are likely to be those under US/Coalition control, where deaths are, in turn, likely to be due to insurgent attacks. Areas of insurgent control, which are likely to be subject to US and Iraqi government attack, for example most of Anbar province, are simply off-limits to these reporters. Thus, the realities of reporting imply that reporters will be witness to a larger fraction of deaths due to insurgents and a lesser proportion of deaths due to US and Iraqi government forces."

A further claim has been that IBC does little or nothing to correct misuse of their figures by public officials or media organizations. It is claimed that the media often misuse IBC's estimate of the total number dead. It is also claimed that the media use the IBC's estimate in order to ignore or downplay the October 2004 excess mortality study published in the Lancet Medical Journal, which estimated a far higher figure. Critics of IBC argue that the Lancet study is the most accurate estimate so far and is more reliable than IBC's estimate.

The January 26, 2006 MediaLens article stated: "We accept that the IBC editors are sincere and well-intentioned. We accept, also, that they have often made clear that their figures are likely to be an underestimate. But we believe they could have done much more to challenge the cynical exploitation of their figures by journalists and politicians. And they could have done much more to warn visitors to their site of the number and type of gaps in their database."

Other criticism of various kinds came from journalists Stephen Soldz, Dahr Jamail,Dahr Jamail and Jeff Pflueger. April 13, 2006. [ "Learning to Count: the Dead in Iraq"] ] and Jeff Pflueger

In April 2006 IBC published a lengthy response to their critics entitled "Speculation is no substitute: a defence of Iraq Body Count".Iraq Body Count. April 2006. [ "Speculation is no substitute: a defence of Iraq Body Count"] . By Hamit Dardagan, John Sloboda & Josh Dougherty. A rebuttal to the critiques by Media Lens, Stephen Soldz, Dahr Jamail, etc.] In their reply, IBC argues that their critics have several key facts wrong. IBC argues that while their estimate is likely to be below the full toll, their critics' errors have led the critics to exaggerate the likely extent of such an undercount. Finally, IBC argues, the available evidence does not support their critics' claims of a pro-US bias infecting the IBC database.


The IBC states on its website that its count is bound to be low due to limitations in reporting. IBC's critics claim, though, that the IBC does not do enough to indicate what they believe is the full extent of the undercounting. IBC has directly disputed these claims in a lengthy document on its website

The October 2006 "Lancet" study 2006 Lancet study. PDF file of Lancet article: PDFlink| [ "Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey"] |242 KiB . By Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy, and Les Roberts. "The Lancet," October 11, 2006.] Supplement to 2006 Lancet study: PDFlink| [ "The Human Cost of the War in Iraq: A Mortality Study, 2002-2006"] |603 KiB . By Gilbert Burnham, Shannon Doocy, Elizabeth Dzeng, Riyadh Lafta, and Les Roberts.] states: "Aside from Bosnia, we can find no conflict situation where passive surveillance [used by the IBC] recorded more than 20% of the deaths measured by population-based methods [used in the "Lancet" studies] ." However, in an April 2006 article the IBC had described an example comparing itself to the 2004 United Nations Development Programme Iraq Living Conditions Survey (ILCS). [Iraq Body Count. April 2006. [ "Legitimate comparisons between studies and the strength of ILCS"] .] [Iraq Body Count. April 2006. [ "IBC Compared to ILCS"] .]

The Lancet report uses the population estimates drawn from the ILCS study, while not mentioning its estimate of war-related deaths. IBC contends that ILCS is a more reliable indicator of violent deaths than the Lancet study, and suggests a much lower number than the Lancet study. However, a supplement to the Lancet study published separately by its authors, as well as subsequent interviews with one of Lancet's authors have disputed the methodology and results of the ILCS study. Jon Pedersen, author of the ILCS study, has also disputed the methodology and results of the Lancet study. For more info on this controversy see the sections titled "Criticisms" and "UNDP ILCS study compared to Lancet study" in Lancet surveys of Iraq War casualties.

The 2006 Lancet study also states: "In several outbreaks, disease and death recorded by facility-based methods underestimated events by a factor of ten or more when compared with population-based estimates. Between 1960 and 1990, newspaper accounts of political deaths in Guatemala correctly reported over 50% of deaths in years of low violence but less than 5% in years of highest violence."

The Lancet reference used is to Patrick Ball, Paul Kobrak, and Herbert F. Spirer and their 1999 book, "State Violence in Guatemala, 1960-1996: A Quantitative Reflection". [ [ "State Violence in Guatemala, 1960-1996: A Quantitative Reflection".] . 1999 book by Patrick Ball, Paul Kobrak, and Herbert F. Spirer.] From the introduction: "The CIIDH database consists of cases culled from direct testimonies and documentary and press sources."

Chapter 10 [ "Chapter 10: Naming the Victims"] . 1999 book by Patrick Ball, Paul Kobrak, and Herbert F. Spirer.] elaborates, saying that "In the CIIDH project, participating popular organizations collected many of the testimonies long after the time of the killings, when people were less clear about details, especially the identities of all the victims." And says, "Typically, during the collection of testimonies, a surviving witness might provide the names of one or two victims, perhaps close relatives, while estimating the number of other neighbors in the community without giving their names."

They report in chapter 7: [ [ "Chapter 7: Reporting the Violence"] . 1999 book by Patrick Ball, Paul Kobrak, and Herbert F. Spirer.]

:"Figure 7.1 shows that in the CIIDH database, most of the information for human rights violations prior to 1977 comes from press sources. ... Approximately 10,890 cases were coded from the newspapers. Sixty-three percent of the press cases were taken from Prensa Libre, 10 percent from El Gráfico, 8 percent from La Hora and El Impacto respectively, and 6 percent from El Imparcial. The remaining 5 percent is made up by eight other newspapers."

But also in chapter 7 they reported that in later, more violent years:

:"When the level of violence increased dramatically in the late 1970s and early 1980s, numbers of reported violations in the press stayed very low. In 1981, one of the worst years of state violence, the numbers fall towards zero. The press reported almost none of the rural violence."

There is a list [ [ "List of figures"] . From 1999 book. By Patrick Ball, Paul Kobrak, and Herbert F. Spirer.] of figures, tables, and charts in the book that can be used to calculate what percentage of their cases of killings by state forces were reported by 13 Guatemalan newspapers for each year when compared to the testimonies of witnesses (as previously described from chapter 10).

In a November 7, 2004 press release [Iraq Body Count. November 7, 2004 press release. [ "IBC response to the Lancet study estimating '100,000' Iraqi deaths"] .] concerning the October 2004 Lancet study PDFlink| [ "Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey"] |263 KiB . By Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi, and Gilbert Burnham. "The Lancet", October 29, 2004. (hosted by] the IBC states: "We have always been quite explicit that our own total is certain to be an underestimate of the true position, because of gaps in reporting or recording".

One of the sources used by the media are morgues. Only the central Baghdad area morgue has released figures consistently. While that is the largest morgue in Iraq and in what is often claimed to be the most consistently violent area, the absence of comprehensive morgue figures elsewhere leads to undercounting. IBC makes it clear that, due to these issues, its count will almost certainly be below the full toll in its 'Quick FAQ' on its homepage.

Quote from an IBC note [ [ Iraq Body Count ] ] : "The Iraq Body Count (IBC) estimate for x350, like that for x334, was made possible by examination of the detailed data supplied to the Associated Press (AP) by the morgues surveyed in AP's 23 May 2004 survey of Iraqi morgues."

That May 23, 2004 Associated Press article [ "5,500 Iraqis Killed, Morgue Records Show"] . By Daniel Cooney. Associated Press. May 23, 2004. Article is [ here] also.] points out the lack of morgue data from many areas of Iraq. Also, it states: "The [Baghdad] figure does not include most people killed in big terrorist bombings, Hassan said. The cause of death in such cases is obvious so bodies are usually not taken to the morgue, but given directly to victims' families. Also, the bodies of killed fighters from groups like the al-Mahdi Army are rarely taken to morgues."

There are more examples of undercounting at Casualties of the Iraq War.

ee also

*Casualties of the Iraq War. An overview of many casualty estimates.
*Iraq War. Infobox there has the most up-to-date casualty figures.
*Lancet surveys of Iraq War casualties
*ORB survey of Iraq War casualties
*Iraqi Health Ministry casualty survey


External links

* [ Website of Iraq Body Count]
*Les Roberts, " [ Do Iraqi Civilian Casualties Matter?] ", AlterNet, February 14, 2006.
*John Sloboda, Hamit Dardagan, " [ On the Iraq Body Count project] ", Presentation based on a lecture given by John Sloboda in February 2006.
* [ UNDP Iraq Living Conditions Survey]

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