Iraq Body Count project

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Image:Iraq1.png
Civilian deaths resulting from the 2003 invasion of Iraq for the period between January 1, 2003 and July 20, 2006 as illustrated by a wikipedia editor using data recorded by the Iraq Body Count project. <ref name="overview" /> The graph illustrates the rise in IBC's total count as it has added deaths to its count over the course of the war.

The Iraq Body Count project (IBC) is an attempt to record civilian deaths resulting from the 2003 invasion of Iraq and occupation. Civilian deaths counted are those attributable to insurgent or military action in Iraq, and also to increased criminal violence. This refers to excess civilian deaths caused by criminal action resulting from the breakdown in law and order which followed the coalition invasion. The sources for the data are reports in English-language media. The IBC states that its count is low due to its strict reliance on media reports. 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.

Contents

[edit] The project's aim

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." <ref name="overview"> Iraq Body Count. Background and overview.</ref>

The project quotes the top US general in Iraq, Tommy Franks, as saying "We don't do body counts [1]". 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. On the other hand, the US army in general doesn't provide detailed statistical information about civilians killed and harmed by their actions, so one could perhaps argue that the quote, though not in context, is true even when interpreted out of context and contrary to its probable intended meaning.

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

[edit] Method

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." <ref name="overview" />

The project is staffed by volunteers who attempt to measure the number of violent civilian deaths resulting from the Iraq war of 2003 by sampling 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.

[edit] Undercounting

In a November 7, 2004 press release <ref>Iraq Body Count. November 7, 2004 press release. "IBC response to the Lancet study estimating '100,000' Iraqi deaths".</ref> concerning the October 2004 Lancet study <ref name="lancet2004"> "Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey"PDF. By Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi, and Gilbert Burnham. The Lancet, October 29, 2004. (hosted by zmag.org).</ref> 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 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 <ref>http://www.iraqbodycount.net/details/x350_note.php</ref>: "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 23rd May 2004 survey of Iraqi morgues."

That May 23, 2004 Associated Press article <ref>"Civilian deaths mount in Iraq as occupation continues". By Daniel Cooney. Associated Press. May 23, 2004.</ref> 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."

[edit] Sources

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." <ref name="overview" />

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

[edit] English-language versus Arabic-language media sources

The IBC report for 2003 to 2005 <ref name="2003-5">Iraq Body Count. "A dossier of civilian casualties 2003-2005"PDF.</ref> 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 MediaLens article <ref name="medialenspart2">MediaLens. January 26, 2006. "Paved with good intentions - Iraq Body Count - Part 2".</ref> 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 article<ref name="soldz">Stephen Soldz. "When Promoting Truth Obscures the Truth: More on Iraqi Body Count and Iraqi Deaths". ZNet, February 5, 2006.</ref> (in reference to the 2003-2005 IBC report<ref name="2003-5" />): "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 <ref>"Interview transcript - John Sloboda". BBC [[Newsnight]. April 28, 2006.</ref> 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."

[edit] 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." <ref name="overview" />

[edit] Body count

Deaths in the Iraq war.

</tr> <td>6 December 2005

<td align=right>27,354 <td align=right>30,863</td> </tr> <td>28 June2006 <td align=right>38,725</td> <td align=right>43,140</td> </tr> <td>02 October2006 <td align=right>43,546</td> <td align=right>48,343</td> </table> [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.]

[edit] 2003-2005 report.

The website released a report detailing the civilian deaths it had recorded between 2003 and 2005 <ref name="2003-5" />. 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.

[edit] Criticism

The project has been the most often cited source on Iraqi deaths, however criticism has been widespread. Some critics have focused on potential bias of sources. Others have raised concerns about the difficulty of distinguishing civilians from combatants. Still others have claimed the project should not be trusted because it is "run by amateurs".

Earlier criticism came from the political right. They 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." <ref> "Bad Counts. An unquestioning media". By Stephen Spruiell, National Review, July 26, 2005.</ref>

Since 2006 some on the left have also begun criticizing IBC, arguing that their figures are far too 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.

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 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.

This criticism of IBC has come in main from the media-watchdog website Media Lens. Media Lens published four pieces <ref>MediaLens. January 25, 2006. "Paved with good intentions - Iraq Body Count - Part 1".</ref><ref name="medialenspart2" /><ref>MediaLens. March 14, 2006. "Iraq Body Count refuses to respond".</ref><ref>MediaLens. April 10, 2006. "Iraq Body Count. A shame becoming shameful".</ref> on what they saw as the "massive bias and gaps" reflected in the IBC database and their totals. Media Lens then called on their readers to email IBC and various news organizations and peace groups to advertise the website's criticisms. David Edwards of MediaLens had articles in other publications too <ref>David Edwards. ZNet. March 14, 2006. "Iraq Body Count Refuses to Respond".</ref>. Other journalists (such as John Pilger and Dahr Jamail<ref>Dahr Jamail and Jeff Pflueger. April 13, 2006. "Learning to Count: the Dead in Iraq".</ref>) have also joined in these criticisms (see links below). As did Stephen Soldz in a Feb. 5, 2006 ZNet article <ref name="soldz" />. Quoting ZNet: He is a "psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Institute for the Study of Violence of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis."

In April 2006 IBC published a lengthy response to their critics entitled "Speculation is no substitute: a defence of Iraq Body Count" <ref>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.</ref>. 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.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

<references />

[edit] External links

Iraq Body Count project

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Date Min Max
9 April, 2003 996 1,174
10 August 2003 6,087 7,798
25 April, 2004 8,918 10,769
12 September 2004 11,797 13,806
12 March 2005 16,231 18,509