Senior Lecturer | Birmingham City University
Conflict and Violence
Middle East

Body Count: The War on Terror and Civilian Deaths in Iraq

Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

My book documents the impact of the 2003 invasion on the civilians of Iraq up until 2019. It examines the civilian cost and the patterns of violence caused by the alleged ‘War on Terror’.

Original research
Book: Body Count: The War on Terror and Civilian Deaths in Iraq (2020)
Peer Reviewed
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About:

This research used a mixed methods approach and data analysis method.

The book was based on the data I collected as a researcher of Iraq Body Count (IBC). IBC’s documentary evidence is drawn from crosschecked media reports of violence leading to deaths, and is supplemented by the review and integration of hospital, morgue and official records. Details about deadly incidents and individuals killed are stored with every entry in the database. The minimum details always extracted are the number killed, where, and when.

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Funding:

This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

Additional resources:
  • Database: Iraq Body Count[Access resource]
  • For policymakers
  • For Conflict Resolution & Peacebuilding
  • Iraq
  • conflict
  • invasion
  • iraq war
  • terrorism
  • violence

Key points

  • Injustice only fuels the conflicts that we see. In Iraq there is a clear agenda that does not have Iraqi civilian lives as a priority. Since the 2003 invasion, innocent lives have been sacrificed with little accountability.

I am the principal researcher for Iraq Body Count, an NGO documenting civilian harm to Iraqis, carrying out research which is contained in a large public database detailing specific incidents and victims of deadly violence. The need and purpose of this research is to document, with transparency, the impact of war on civilians and the violations of human rights in conflict; enable more timely, reliable and comprehensive monitoring of armed violence, including its impact on specific groups; give a human face to the many nameless victims of armed violence; provide essential information for all parties to take steps to protect civilians; bring states and parties to armed violence into better compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law; assess the effectiveness of strategy and support post-conflict recovery and reconciliation.

Findings

  • In 2014, when ISIS came into Iraq, there was a huge increase in civilian deaths, caused both by ISIS and the responses to ISIS by the coalition forces in the form of airstrikes.

    These airstrikes killed thousands of Iraqi citizens too.

  • We find it easy to sacrifice the lives of 'foreign' people.

    It is easy to say it's sad that 2,000 Iraqi children were killed, but "we defeated ISIS", when our children were not among those 2,000. A low value is placed on foreign lives.

  • Despite the thousands of civilian deaths, there has been complete lack of accountability, complete lack of justice.

    There hasn't been a single investigation or trial into the death of even one Iraqi child of the 1,866 Iraqi children that have been killed by coalition forces since 2003.

  • In 2022, 1,352 Iraqis (3-4 per day) were arrested on terrorism charges and face the death penalty.

    Such men rarely get a fair trial, while confessions tend to be collected under torture, which is illegal.

  • What we see in Iraq is disproportionate hunting of terrorists - or those suspected of terrorism who are held as wholly responsible for civilian killings.

    And there is a complete neglect of pursuing other perpetrators of civilian killings, such as Turkish military, Iraqi security forces, militias, American and British forces.

  • Coalition forces called it Operation Iraqi Freedom, yet in the first 6 weeks of the invasion, 7,500 Iraqi civilians were killed, suggesting the invasion aimed to protect and pursue the Coalition's own interests - control and exploitation of another Middle Eastern state, while masquerading as a humanitarian mission.
  • The objectives of the democratically elected Iraqi governments, given the thousands of civilians they have also killed, are to stay in power and to eliminate any threats to themselves.

    This was observed in the killings of protesters in 2019 and the bombings of cities like Fallujah.

  • The government doesn't discriminating between those who joined terrorist groups freely and those who were coerced.

    Children were taken from their families to be trained as terrorists. Many men who are tried don't even see a lawyer until their trial, there are concerns around justice and punishment.

What it means

As those around him fled in panic, 18-year-old Ahmed Draiwel ran with a bomb in his arms toward a rubbish pile, where he planned to hurl it. As he prayed, the parcel bomb blew up killing him. A vendor in a Baghdad market, Ahmed sold vegetables from his stall and on March 15, 2007, he saved everyone but himself. War causes death, but also inspires heroism.

ISIS banned football as a Western export, and there were severe penalties for anyone who played or watched it. During the World Cup, in an ISIS controlled area, there was a group of men watching a football match in a cafe. ISIS shot everyone dead. A group of young boys caught playing football had their feet cut off. When the Yazidi genocide started, there were reports of ISIS entering a village and dividing the civilians into men, whom they killed, older women, whom they also killed, and younger women whom they took as ‘brides’. These are all demonstrations of ISIS brutality.

Ali Hussein was two years old, when his body was picked up from the rubble of his home. His house was bombed by US forces in the ‘Battle for Mosul’, and Ali was a tiny victim who lost his life as a consequence. No one was ever tried for killing him and other children like him.

Since 2003, Iraq has been in such a state of insecurity that every day is a day of terror. This is the real impact of any war. When we are so keen for a war to continue, or for a war to be won by those we support, we do not see what that means for those who are there. So many victories end up being Pyrrhic victories, inflicting such death and suffering as to be more like defeats.

How to use

  • Turkish airstrikes need to stop
  • Until the Iraqi government puts the security of its civilians first, no progress can be made
  • The militia that are in charge of entire areas of Iraq, for example Popular Mobilisation, need to be dismantled or disarmed, because they are also killing civilians
  • A response to a security issue must never be to start killing people, even when they are suspected terrorists
  • All these killings have been collected every day and are available on the Iraq Body Count database
  • The government need to ensure that they have fair, democratic elections and that they value the lives of Iraqis
  • The Iraqi government need to show accountability by starting to acknowledge the wrongs and crimes committed by all parties

Acknowledgements

Thank you to KPSRL

These insights were made available thanks to the support of KPSRL, who are committed to the dissemination of knowledge for all.

 

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Hamourtziadou, Lily. 'Body Count: The War on Terror and Civilian Deaths in Iraq'. Acume. https://www.acume.org/r/body-count-the-war-on-terror-and-civilian-deaths-in-iraq/