Iraq: the Human Cost


Conventional wisdom in American politics focuses only on American costs in the war in Iraq: the casualties to U.S. soldiers, the financial costs, and sometimes the strategic costs. But the human cost to the Iraqis themselves are nearly ignored in political discourse, the news media, and intellectual circles. This site is a corrective to those oversights. We present empirical reports, studies, and other accounts that convey and assess the consequences of war for the people of Iraq.  

Looking Back on Ten Years of War, Trauma, Death, & Displacement


Major studies of war mortality

Three major studies of war mortality have been done in Iraq. Two appeared in The Lancet, the British medical journal, and one appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. They bear strong similarities in their findings, but have some important differences, too.

The first household survey that appeared was published in The Lancet in October 2004, measuring the war-related mortality in the war's first 18 months. The researchers--mainly epidemiologists from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and medical personnel in Iraq--estimated 98,000 "excess deaths" due to war. Read

The second household survey, conducted by the Hopkins scientists again, was completed in June 2006 and published four months later in The Lancet. Its findings: 650,000 people (civilians and fighters) died as a result of the war in Iraq. Read

Another household survey, this one conducted by the Iraq Ministry of Health at the same time as the second Hopkins study, found 400,000 excess deaths, 151,000 by violence. As is the case with most such surveys conducted during time of war, there were problems in data gathering and the analysis tended to minimize violent death estimates. But the survey generally confirmed the very high mortality reported in The Lancet. Read

It should be noted that both the second Lancet article and the New England Journal of Medicine article were based on studies that were completed at the height of war-related violence in Iraq. Large-scale fighting continued for another year and slowly subsided for a year after that to lower but continuing levels. So their estimates are a fraction of the total caused by the war.

In 2008, the peer-reviewed journal, Conflict and Health, published "Iraq War Mortality Estimates: A Systematic Review," and found that the household survey method was superior to other forms of counting.

Other Estimates

Several other attempts have been made to estimate the war dead, and particularly civilians killed by violence. Iraq Body Count is the most well known. It counted individuals reported in English-language newspapers, mainly, which severely limited its scope. Similarly, the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index and the U.N. office in Iraq used "passive surveillance" methods (reports from morgues as well as newspapers). The problem with these methods is that they only capture part of the total picture (as with mrgue statistics), their "surveillance instrument" (i.e., newspapers) change over time, and so on. (See the discussion of methods in the Conflict and Health article cited above.) They are mainly useful for viewing trends. Wikileaks also released U.S. military data in 2010, but this was also quite partial--reports from U.S. military personnel.

In 2013, a group of scholars at Columbia University's School of Public Health published a comparison of the Wikileaks and Iraq Body Count estimates, and found a small percentage of single reported deaths overlapping--indicating that the total dead was significantly higher than either estimate held.

Displacement: Refugees and internally displaced

The number of displaced persons, both internal (within Iraq) and external (refugees, mainly in Jordan and Syria) ranged from estimates of 3.5 million to 5 million or more, which were directly attributable to the war. Virtually all first-hand accounts blamed violence as the cause of moving, or threats of ethnic or sectarian cleansing of neighborhoods.

The ravages of displacement, which remains at about 3 million, are bad enough. But it is also another indicator of the scale of mortality. All wars since 1945 have ratios of displaced to fatalities of 10:1 or less, typically more in the range of 5:1. If this typical ratio holds for the Iraq War, that indicates mortality of about one million Iraqis.

- Maps of displacement inside Iraq (up to 2011)

- According UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, the total number of internally displaced equals more than 1.3 million, and the number of refugees exceeds 1.4 million. Total "persons of concern" exceed 3 million. UNHCR web site

Analysis of internally displaced crisis by International Rescue Committee, a major NGO (March 2013)

- An assessment of IDP situation by the Middle East Institute (Oct 2012)

- Iraqi Refugee Stories - first-hand accounts (video)

- Analysis and advocacy on Iraqi refugees from Human Rights First

Health Effects of War

Health-related impacts on children in Iraq, from the Brussels Tribunal and Global Research, Canada, dewscribes the broad effects on children, including birth defects, cancer, denial of rights, etc. (February 2013).

Environmental Contaminants from War Remnants in Iraq, a well-documented 2011 report that focuses mainly on depleted uranium and its carcinogenic qualities

"Effects of the War on Nutrition and Children," measured effects empirically in the mot violent areas (2009) and found profound impacts on children's health.

Birth defects in Fallujah, Iraq, rise markedly, says a 2011 medical study. Fallujah, the largest city in Anbar province, was the scene of two enormous battles between US forces and "insurgents."

Metal contamination: "Within less than a decade, the occurrence of congenital birth defects increased by an astonishing 17-fold in the same hospital." Medical study, 2012.



End of U.S. troops occasions minor reflection on war & destruction

The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq has spurred little new information on the scale of destruction in the 8 year, 8 month war. Professor Juan Cole had this to say:

The American public still for the most part has no idea what the United States did to that country, and until we Americans take responsibility for the harm we do others with our perpetual wars, we can never recover from our war sickness, which drives us to resort to violence in international affairs in a way no other democracy routinely does.

Population of Iraq: 30 million.

Number of Iraqis killed in attacks in November 2011: 187

Average monthly civilian deaths in Afghanistan War, first half of 2011: 243

Percentage of Iraqis who lived in slum conditions in 2000: 17

Percentage of Iraqis who live in slum conditions in 2011: 50

Number of the 30 million Iraqis living below the poverty line: 7 million.

Number of Iraqis who died of violence 2003-2011: 150,000 to 400,000.

Orphans in Iraq: 4.5 million.

Orphans living in the streets: 600,000.

Number of women, mainly widows, who are primary breadwinners in family: 2 million.

Iraqi refugees displaced by the American war to Syria: 1 million

Internally displaced [pdf] persons in Iraq: 1.3 million

Proportion of displaced persons who have returned home since 2008: 1/8

Rank of Iraq on Corruption Index among 182 countries: 175

COMMENT: From the Canadian International Council website, John Tirman, wrote (Dec. 16, 2011):

War has a powerful impact on those who have lived through one, bending every calculation, every thought, every action to the possible consequences of violence, deprivation, displacement and the other ravages of conflict. Oddly, war has become a distant occurrence for most of us in the industrialized West. The armed forces  of Canada and the United States are all-volunteer and have been for many years, so very few who are unwilling to go to war or work in war zones are actually forced to experience its maelstrom. 

But the people who live in war zones do, of course. Many millions of them are directly affected by the violence, now for more than a decade in Afghanistan in its latest war and for nearly nine years in Iraq in a war that followed 12 years of crippling sanctions and the short but intense Operation Desert Storm. 

And there’s the rub: war devastates these places, but to us they are remote and largely forgettable. The amount of public attention to Afghanistan and Iraq has declined steadily. We scarcely pay attention to what has happened to the native populations. There are, perhaps, political and psychological reasons for this indifference—a turning away from the violence, a mission gone bad, falsehoods proffered by politicians, and many others. But the indifference is unmistakable. The news media rarely describes the ruinous consequences of U.S. policy and war-making for Afghanis and Iraqis. Few, if any, novels, films or other cultural expressions attempt to capture this suffering either. 

This broad tendency to forget, or intentionally put aside, the ravages of war was evident during and after the Korean War (1950-53) and the Indochina wars in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 1960s and early ’70s. But we forget at our peril. We should care about what happens to these people and their societies, not only for moral reasons, but also because forgetting has consequences. 

Counting the Dead

One symptom of this indifference is the absence of an adequate accounting of the wars’ destruction, particularly of war mortality. The governments don’t discuss it, and the news media reliably report the lowest conceivable numbers—“tens of thousands” is the usual formulation for Iraq – or the partial numbers collated by the U.N. office in Kabul for Afghanistan. In fact, the numbers of fatalities are significantly higher and need to be studied for their implications.

In Iraq, some brave attempts to collect and analyze data about war-related mortality have at least given us a sense of the scale of mayhem.  Several household surveys, the state-of-the-art method favored by epidemiologists, indicate a death toll reaching well into the hundreds of thousands. (This includes all Iraqis, not just civilians, from direct violence and indirectly due to other factors – so-called excess deaths above the pre-war mortality rate.)  Even the oft-cited tally of Iraq Body Count, a U.K.-based NGO, holds that more than 100,000 civilians have died as a result of violence. IBC’s method is crude and incomplete—it gathers data mainly from English-language newspapers—and they acknowledge an undercount by at least a factor of two.  The lowest estimate of all the household surveys—a large, randomized sample conducted by the Ministry of Health in the spring of 2006—was 400,000 excess deaths in the 2003-2006 period, and there was still a lot of killing to come.  By using data on widows, displaced persons (up to 5 million), and the household surveys, I estimate the number of war-related dead to be at least 600,000 and possibly as much as one million. 

This is not a number that most American politicians want to consider. What’s more puzzling is the reaction of the news media, which have generally failed to report on the war’s destruction. Even as the U.S. military exits Iraq, the news media’s treatment focuses on American soldiers returning home or questions the future stability of Iraq in the absence of U.S. troops.  There is very little on how the war has affected ordinary Iraqis.

On Afghanistan, a far less violent conflict compared with Iraq, we have even less information. The U.N. office gathers data from morgues, the military and news reports, but this “passive surveillance” captures only a fraction of the war dead and cannot explain what is being missed. No household surveys have been conducted in Afghanistan.  So we have only the sketchiest notions of the war’s human toll. (This was also true of the wars in Korea and Indochina, where estimates are largely guesswork.)  Overall, my best estimate of excess deaths in Afghanistan is around 100,000, but it is an inadequate estimate, as all are for this beleaguered country.

The Illusion of Validity

The low numbers the news media and political leaders use to describe the outcome of these wars provide an unintentional symmetry to the conflicts: the conflicts began under an illusion of validity, to borrow a phrase from psychologist Daniel Kahneman, which in Iraq was Saddam Hussein’s purported “weapons of mass destruction” and in Afghanistan was the purported hot pursuit of Osama bin Laden. Now the wars wind down under another illusion of validity, which is that the civilians harmed by the wars are relatively few. This is repeated so often, sometimes with reference to the Iraq Body Count or UN numbers, however hollow their credibility, that absurdly low estimates have become conventional wisdom. It is so much so that even the liberal media, like National Public Radio or the New York Times, rarely explore the human costs of the war to Iraqis or Afghanis. 

These illusions, which feed indifference, have consequences. Others in the Muslim world particularly notice this callousness. It does not reflect well on America that many believe it to be a reckless bully unmindful of the havoc it wreaked, nor on Britain and Canada that they are camp followers of this recklessness. 

The consequences for the United States are even more dramatic if considering the domestic political scene. By ignoring or forgetting the sheer destructiveness of the wars, Americans can continue on a path of seeing all foreign problems as fixable with military force. (Nowadays some domestic issues are regarded in the same light, with one result being the enormous homeland security apparatus.) This has been the tragic tendency of U.S. policy makers since 1945.  The president is the commander-in-chief of the military, and as the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., said of previous armed ventures, war above all nourishes the presidency.  If there is no accountability for the human toll of war, the urge to deploy military assets will remain powerful. 

Colin Powell famously said that invading a country means following the Pottery Barn rule, “If you break it, you own it.”  The sad fact is that we broke Iraq and may be breaking Afghanistan, but we don’t “own it.” We scarcely recall that we ever had anything to do with it.  As the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, the season of forgetting is upon us.

Widows in Iraq indicate scale of killing during U.S. war

The New York Times published a story in late November 2011 about widows' hardship in Iraq, a rare instance of of an account of how the war has affected ordinary people in Iraq. The reporter states that 86,000 war widows are getting assistance from the Iraqi government, and that this "corresponds with conservative estimates of 103,000 to 113,000 Iraqi deaths in the war."
          This supposition is typical of the news media nowadays, which regularly reports the lowest estimates for war mortality. Consider the 86,000 figure supporting the 103-113,000 death toll. Half of the men in Iraq are not married. A very large number of men who are killed in the violence are young, far less than the average age of first marriage, which is 25 years old in Iraq. Many children are killed or die unnecessarily due to poor health care conditions. Women also die in war; approximately 10% of violent deaths were women.
          Not all war widows are getting benefits, moreover. As this earlier and more complete report from Reuters details, "Iraqi women say registering for government pensions is a bureaucratic nightmare due to corrupt workers who demand money to complete the paperwork. One divorcee said she spent almost a year registering and when she was about to finish the process the pension office told her that her file had been lost. She gave up." The 2009 law to compensate widows was only put into effect last summer, so the numbers of women who have not even been registered is unknown and possibly very large.
          This one metric, then--numbers of war widows, estimated to be 2 million for all wars--indicates a minimum of 250,000 deaths due to the war, not 100,000. Given that we do not know how many women will claim benefits, the actual figure is likely two to three times that. (Nov. 28)

Reports on displaced paint grim picture of poverty and status

Recent reports on Iraqis displaced by war show a chronic disaster. In a Brookings-LSE account, for example, scholar Elizabeth Ferris writes: "The governments of the region have generally allowed them to remain but haven’t recognized them as refugees nor given them formal residency rights. Not yet persuaded that it’s safe to return to their country, they live in limbo." UNHCR, the UN agency for refugees, noted in a July report that "an estimated 1.3 million IDPs are in Iraq. 467,565 IDPs and destitute persons reside in 382 settlements countrywide. The conditions in the settlements are extremely poor." Only one in eight of Iraqi displaced persons has returned to their homes since the violence subsided in 2008, says the agency. One reason for the trickle of returnees may be the Iraqi economy: Another U.N. agency says that more than half of all Iraqis live in “slum conditions,” compared with 17 percent in 2000. (Sept. 30)

Human trafficking reports fault Iraqi state

Among the consequences of war is the corrosion of social and institutional barriers to crime, and none is sadder than the rise of human trafficking. Iraq is apparently undergoing a spell of increasing trafficking, or at least more noticeable violations of sexual and labor trafficking. A few weeks ago, the State Department issued its annual assessment of human trafficking worlwide, and Iraq was criticized for nearly non-existent enforcement of laws relating to both forced prostitution and involuntary labor servitude. Journalists reports confirm that the problems are acute and possibly growing. "Violence against women appears to be increasing, though it is difficult to be sure," says a Spring 2011 assessment in Middle East Report. "Though Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and MADRE have published field reports, this violence remains one of the least studied aspects of post-invasion Iraq." The link to poverty among women--some 75 percent say they have no propsects for jobs or very few prospects--may explain a rising incidence of sexual trafficking, prostitution, and child abuse. (August 29)

Wikileaks releases damning--but misleading--documents on Iraq

The nearly 400,000 documents released by the NGO muckraker, Wikileaks, on October 22, 2010, shows greater brutality toward civilians than the U.S. Government and the news media have heretofore acknowledged. Rampaging security contractors like Xe and abuse of detainees are particularly notable. But the documents give the impression that fatalties in the war "only" totaled 115,000 or so, counting civilians killed by direct violence. This is misleading. The New York Times and the Associated Press both used this "baseline" and asserted it to be in keeping with several other estimates.

The U.S. documents released by Wikileaks suffer from the same shortcomings that also afflict those "several other estimates"--Iraq Body Count, the Brookings Index, and the U.N. mission in Baghdad: they use "passive surveillance" methods that capture only what is reported by a small and unsystematic effort. Active surveillance using randomized household surveys is a superior method, and in the two most recent, credible surveys, between 400,000 and 650,000 Iraqi deaths were estimated, including all Iraqis and all causes. See this peer-reviewed journal Conflict and Health on the different methods used in Iraq.

BBC has delved into the different gauges of mortality more than any other major news media source. The Guardian's "Data Blog" also has a map and additional insights. AlterNet's article on the controversy, by this site's editor, is here.

While still somewhat speculative, the science-based methods suggest a total of between 700,000 and one million "excess deaths" to date resulting from the war. The large estimate has recently been affirmed by one of the longest-serving Iraqi correspondents in the war, Sahar Issa of McClatchy New Service, an award-winning reporter, who described the IBC and Wikileaks-related estimates "laughable." Read her interview.

Finding the dead among the ruins of Iraq

Anthony Shadid's moving account of Iraqis searching for bodies of loved ones at the Baghdad morgue is a rare glimpse of the human cost of the war. Read.

BBC asks, "How many have died in Iraq?"

BBC World Service aired a useful analysis of the mortality issue, pegged to Iraq Body Count's demand that the UK government investigate the officially ignored issue. (August 27, 2010).

Comment: America's 20 Years in Iraq

It was 20 yearts ago, in August 1990, when Saddam Hussein recklessly occupied Kuwait, which drew the U.S. deeply into the region and soon commenced a twenty-year period of war, sanctions, and occupation. How did this come to pass, and why? An analysis.

CIVIC proposes new guidelines for civilian victims

In an atttempt to prod the U.S. Government to make "condolence" payments to victims of American wars fairer, a Washington-based NGO, Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict (CIVIC), proposes in a report that the U.S. military professionalize its entire approach to dealing with the victims. Noting haphazard reporting and loosely defined guidance for who should be compensated, among related mismanagement, CIVIC makes a strong case for creating uniform rules, implementing training for judge advocates and troops, and keeping better records. "Civilian anger is often intensified by the current ad hoc claims system," say the authors, Marla Keenan and Jonathan Tracy, the latter a former judge advocate who served in Iraq. "Proactive investigation of civilian harm is a rarity rather than the norm," they note. And denial of claims can be routine: "Most convoy cases . . . resulted in denials and when based on the 'combat exception' were given no consideration for a condolence payment. That’s true even if it is shown that the victims did not posses ill intent toward the convoy or U.S. forces." The $2500 condolence payment, the typical maximum, was also characterized as too low. (June, 2010).

What the Wikileaks video says about the war

The infamous video released in early April 2010 by the investigative Web site Wikileaks, showing a U.S. helicopter gunship killing 12 apparently unthreatening Iraqis in Baghdad in July 2007, provides some fresh reminders about the war. First is the sheer brutality of war, which few Americans ever see, and the apparently cavalier attitudes about killing. Second is the now well-documented fact that the Pentagon lied about the incident, and when Wikileaks released the video, attacked the editors of the Web site. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the Los Angeles Times (April 14) that “these people can put out whatever they want and are never held accountable for it," said without apparent irony. Third, consider how the mainstram news media rallied round the soldiers: David Ignatius of the Washington Post called the video a "dangerous" example of “counter-embedding,” which he defined, “to embed with the insurgents and report what the war looked like from their side,” (May 2), and the New York Times ran a story on April 7, a few days after the video was released, discussing how traumatic such incidents are for the U.S. soldiers. The consequences for the Iraqi civilian victims received virtually no attention. Two of the soldiers on the ground who arrived at the scene subsequently apologized to the Iraqi people.

BBC report: much Iraq violence goes unreported

As if to verify the findings of the article in Conflict and Health, the BBC correspondent in Baghdad has a valuable contribution that explains how and why the Iraqi government downplays violence and casualties (Dec. 11). A medical doctor told her that there are explosions every day that are never reproted in the press. Read.

Study shows news media undercount violence

The peer-reviewed journal Conflict and Health published (November 2009) a study of the way the major news media are reporting casualty figures from the Iraq War, and note that "U.S. newspapers report more events and tallies related to Coalition [military] deaths than Iraqi civilian deaths, although there are substantially different proportions amongst the different U.S. newspapers. In four of the five non-US newspapers, the pattern was reversed." The authors conclude that "this difference in reporting trends may partly explain the discrepancy in how well people are informed about U.S. and Iraqi civilian fatalities in Iraq. Furthermore, this calls into question the role of the media in reporting and sustaining armed conflict, and the extent to which newspaper and other media reports can be used as data to assess fatalities or trends in the time of war." The authors, Schuyler W. Henderson, M.D., M.P.H., William E. Olander. M.P.H., and Les Roberts, Ph.D., are at Columbia University.

Coincidentally, their findings are reflected in a just-released journalistic treatment of mortality estimates from Iraq, among other issues, in Newspeak in the 21st Century, by David Edwards amd David Cromwell (Pluto Press), of the watchdog group, Media Lens.

ABC News poll in Iraq shows continuing civilian distress, opposition to U.S. invasion

An ABC News survey (March 2009) in Iraq conducted by D3 Systems shows improvement in some categories, such as belief in democracy and overall security, but some surprising levels of discontent and lack of basic human services. As NGOs like Oxfam have reported, access to clean water, medical care, and other basic amentities exists for only 30-40% of the population. More than half believe the 2003 U.S. invasion was wrong, 70% believe the U.S. has "carried out responsibilities" badly during the war; and only 18 percent believe the U.S. is now playing a positive role in Iraq.  One-quarter of all Iraqis, and much higher numbers of Arabs, said they witnessed "unnecessary violence" against Iraqis by U.S. forces recently.

Ethnic tensions persist: More than half of Sunnis say their lives are bad today; among Arabs, more than 40% still say insecurity is their major concern; dramatically growing numbers live in ethnically "pure" neighborhoods; and overwhelming percentages of Arabs oppose Kurdish control of Kirkuk.

The survey had a relatively low response rate, 62%, indicating that the responses they did receive do not reflect broader discontent, and Sunni populations appear to be under-represented, but neither ABC News nor D3 released all relevant sampling data. The data they did release and its analysis is here.

Iraq War widows in distress, says N.Y. Times, and number 740,000

"As the number of widows has swelled during six years of war, their presence on city streets begging for food or as potential recruits by insurgents has become a vexing symbol of the breakdown of Iraqi self-sufficiency," reports the New York Times (Feb. 23).  "As the war has ground on, government and social service organizations say the women’s needs have come to exceed available help, posing a threat to the stability of the country’s tenuous social structures." There are some 740,000 war widows, the report says, including those from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and Desert Storm in 1991.

That is one of every eleven women from the age of 15 to 80. Given the population bulge in the 20-40 age range that would be affected by the current war, and the high numbers of young men killed who are not married, the estimate of widows translates into a very high mortality figure. For example, if half the widows are from the current war, and one-third of those who have died as a result of the war are not married--both conservative assumptions--then more than 555,000 have been killed as a result of the U.S. invasion and subsequent violence. That figure would not include the number of women and children who have died as a result of the war's privations or from direct violence.

The Times has generally been quite cautious in its reporting on the war's human costs, so this article represents a breakthrough in its journalism. Read it here.

Two weeks later the Times reported on mental health studies done in Iraq among women, finding that 17 percent of those surveyed are suffering from serious, war-related mental illness. Read the March 7 article. It is based in part on a large household survey conducted by the World Health Organization. Asecond report, by Oxfam, notes that 75% of widows are not getting pensions owed to them. Read more.

Claims of "victory" and the human cost in the Bush years

A new analysis of the total fatalities in the Iraq war during the presidency of George W. Bush demonstrates that the likely number is between 800,000 and 1.3 million. The analysis appears in The Nation (Feb. 16, 2009) and can also be read here. It has been translated into four languages and has appeared in more than 3,000 publications and on-line websites.

New videos show the drama of human insecurity

Filmmakers are increasingly posting new videos of the plight of Iraqis and the conduct and consequences of the U.S. war. These accounts go well beyond conventional news sources, which have been downplaying news from Iraq and never covered the human cost adequately. Among the independent videos recently found is one from the "Winter Solider" conference (from the American News Project, which has several from Iraq); a treatment conveying the misery in Iraq in graphic imagery; an in-your-face rendition of U.S. operations challenging the usual narrative form; and one dissecting the "pre-jaded" soldiers and the cultural conditioning to be in combat.

Detention centers unchecked, says parliamentarian

Iraq's notorious detention centers---frequently a place of torture and disappearances---may be more numerous than previously thought. An Iraqi Member of Parliament, Mohammad Al-Dainy, has told the ICRC and others that the detention centers number 420. The State Department's human rights report on Iraq has charged the Interior Ministry, the overseer of the detention centers, with mutliple violations of human rights in those facilities. See the State Department's report. Human Rights Watch has also decried the situation, repeatedly, and has called on the Bush administration to take action. Some 17,000 Iraqis now in U.S. detention centers will be handed over to Iraqi authorities---possibly the Interior Ministry---in January, and concern for their safety runs high. A U.S. general says 12,000 of the 17,000 are essentially harmless and should be released.

Refugee policy a "failure" as displaced Iraqis fear returning home -- new reports

An October 2008 article from a Los Angeles Times correspondent reports that there is still a net outflow of professionally skilled Iraqis. This confirms earlier reports and analyses of the continuing refugee crisis.
     (1) The millions of Iraqi refugees in the region "remain stranded, jobless and deprived of essential services, while the Iraqi government and the wider international community have failed in their responsibilities and are ill prepared to cope with a new refugee crisis, should it occur," says a new assessment from the International Crisis Group (July 10).   Up to 5 million Iraqis have been displaced by the war. Two million or more are in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Facing increasing poverty, says the report, and "with little to lose and nothing to look forward to, refugees could become radicalized and more violent; crime, which already has reached worrying levels in host countries, could rise. "
     (2) The reduced violence in Iraq has not resulted in large-scale returns of refugees and internally displaced persons, because Iraqis do not regard their homeland as safe. This first-hand report by foreign correspondent Anna Badkhen (July 29) provides some insights on this lack of confidence in Iraq's security situation.
      (3) A comprehensive analysis of the issue of Iraqi displaced and security from the Brookings Institution, The Looming Crisis: Displacement and Security in Iraq, released in August 2008.            (5) The International Organization for Immigration has been interviewing returnee families, 212 in all from abroad, and has this comprehensive report on who they are.
      (6) Roberta Cohen provides a analytic overview of the displaced persons issue in the American University International Law Review , Autumn 2008.

"We were hiring terrorists": report on the Awakening militias

The quandary of what to do with the Sunni militias supported by the U.S. is becoming acute--the U.S. will stop payments to them this autumn, and the Iraqi government is unable or unwilling to absorb more than a handful into the police or army. As a result, tens of thousands of former insurgents will essentially be on the loose again, with arms and anger at the ready. Read journalist Anna Badkhen's eyewitness report.

New assessment shows gross under-reporting of war deaths

A worldwide survey of war deaths in 13 different countries from 1955 - 2002 shows that mortality accounts from "passive surveillance"--e.g., newspaper reporting--capture only one-third of actual deaths. The research, published in June in the British Medical Journal, thereby confirms that "active surveillance"--household surveys of the kind produced bythe Iraq Mortality Study--are more reliable. Read the article, and this report from the science journal Nature.

Polling analyst: Iraqis want U.S. troops out

In July 23 testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee, University of Maryland pollster Stephen Kull reviews the surveys done in Iraq that ask Iraqis about the U.S. occupation and potential troop withdrawal. "It is clear that the Iraqi people are quite eager for the US to lighten its military footprint in Iraq," Prof. Kull concluded. "More importantly, it appears that they are eager to regain their sense of sovereignty. As long as they do not have this sense, they are likely to continue to have a fundamentally hostile attitude toward all aspects of the US presence in Iraq." Read his testimony.


The Human Cost of the War in Iraq: a Mortality Study 2002-06

Random killings, human bombs, dozens of violent groups, and a deepening sense of insecurity gnaw Iraq. The evidence of pervasive and persistent mayhem is everywhere, from the formal statistics of mortality to broader estimates of numerical outcomes. The deadly violence is omnipresent, but without a visible front or an apparent strategy—and for those reasons, among others, it is poorly understood.

It is for this reason that the mortality study conducted by Burnham et al was commissioned by the MIT Center for International Studies. Understanding the scale, the sources of violence, the demographical profiles of the victims, and the geographic dispersion of killing—all recorded in the household survey of the Iraq mortality study—provides an indispensable tool in coming to terms with the violence in Iraq. Read the full report in PDF

Other relevant commentary can be found at Cambridge Global


An Iraqi Woman Regards the Human Cost of the War

Huda Ahmed is the Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies. She has worked as a journalist in her native Iraq, and is also now working at a public radio station in Boston. Read the report in English and Arabic

"Inside Iraq" - Bloggers tell their stories

From the McClatchey News site, several Iraqis tell their unedited tales of life in a war zone. Highlighted in Michael Massing's articles (see Further Discussion). Link to the blogs
See also the N.Y. Times' Baghdad bureau blogs and videos here. Medea Benjamin's April 2008 blog on refugees in Syria and Jordan here.