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



Verified academic

Senior Lecturer

School of Social Sciences

Birmingham City University

For 25 years dr hamourtziadou has researched and taught international politics and security. she is principal researcher for leading ngo iraq body count, twice nominated for the nobel peace.


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’.

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.

Key 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.

How to use

Turkish airstrikes need to stop. They are killing Iraqi civilians. Even those that target and kill PKK fighters need to stop. The Iraqi government should provide the ultimatum that either the strikes stop or they are taken as a declaration of war. It is not acceptable to invade the sovereign space of another state and conduct almost daily airstrikes, or send military across the border to conduct raids.
Until the Iraqi government puts the security of its civilians first, no progress can be made. They cannot allow another foreign country to come in and kill Iraqis. The government can't be weak. When something harms civilians, they must say "no". Until they do, they will have no legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis.
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. Because when someone has supposedly committed a crime, justice needs to follow the normal procedure. A suspected terrorist still has human rights, as they are a human being. Killing them rather than investigating and holding them accountable is morally and legally wrong. The Geneva Convention states that once a combatant is disarmed, or wounded, or has surrendered then they must be treated with dignity. This is the law. If they are wounded, their wounds must be treated; you cannot starve them or torture them; you cannot cause them any suffering. Even when a suicide bomber is disarmed, they must be treated as a human being.
All these killings have been collected every day and are available on the Iraq Body Count database. The Iraqi government needs to work with people like the Iraq Body Count staff and other organisations that are documenting these killings and decide what measures need to be taken to make them stop. Then perhaps the people of Iraq would have a greater sense of trust for their government.
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.

The full paper is not available open access

Lily Hamourtziadou, (2020). Body Count: The War on Terror and Civilian Deaths in Iraq. Bristol: Bristol University Press.

About this research

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

Recommended for

UN Sustainable Development Goals

This research contributes to the following SDGs

About this research

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

Recommended for

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. With all the killings I have documented over the years, Ahmed has stayed in my mind as a hero.

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, on April 29, 2008. His house in Baghdad’s Sadr City was bombed by US forces during the ‘Surge’, an operation to ‘provide security’ to Baghdad. Ali was one of 12 children who lost their lives in that airstrike, which also killed a pregnant woman. No one was ever tried for killing him and other children like him.

Since 2003, Iraq has been in such a state of insecurity, such 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, in the risk zones. So many victories end up being Pyrrhic victories, inflicting such death and suffering as to be more like defeats.


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.

Helpful resources

Let your research make a social impact