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Photo of an Iraqi boy seen through the broken window of a minibus targeted by a roadside bomb in Baghdad Jadida, Iraq.

An Iraqi boy is seen through the broken window of a minibus targeted by a roadside bomb that killed two civilians and injured another 13 in Baghdad.

Photograph by Ahmad Al-Rubaye, AFP/Getty

Dan Vergano

National Geographic

Published October 15, 2013

War and occupation directly and indirectly claimed the lives of about a half-million Iraqis from 2003 to 2011, according to a groundbreaking survey of 1,960 Iraqi households. The violence peaked in 2006 and 2007, say public health experts who were part of the study.

On March 19, 2003, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq, beginning a ground war that culminated in the rapid capture of Baghdad and overthrow of the regime led by Saddam Hussein. A coalition-led occupation of Iraq lasted until 2011, marked by repeated bombings, an al Qaeda-linked insurgency, militia warfare, and other bloodshed in the nation of 32.6 million people.

In the new PLOS Medicine journal survey, led by public health expert Amy Hagopian of the University of Washington in Seattle, an international research team polled heads of households and siblings across Iraq. The researchers, including some from the Iraqi Ministry of Health, aimed to update and improve past estimates of the human costs of the war and occupation.

"We think it is roughly around half a million people dead. And that is likely a low estimate," says Hagopian. "People need to know the cost in human lives of the decision to go to war."

The survey responses point to around 405,000 deaths attributable to the war and occupation in Iraq from 2003 to 2011. At least another 56,000 deaths should be added to that total from households forced to flee Iraq, the study authors estimate. More than 60 percent of the excess deaths of men, women, and children reported from 2003 to 2011 were the direct result of shootings, bombings, airstrikes, or other violence, according to the study. The rest came indirectly, from stress-related heart attacks or ruined sanitation and hospitals.

"Wars kill people all kinds of ways, not just in shootings. And it exacts a toll on the invaders as well as the invaded," Hagopian says. Some 4,804 U.S., British, and other coalition armed service members died in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Past estimates of Iraqis killed in the war and occupation have varied widely. U.S. Army war logs released by Wikileaks in 2010 pointed to more than 100,000, while a widely criticized study conducted by Opinion Research Business, a London-based polling agency, estimated Iraq war deaths at 1.2 million people through 2007.

"We had all Iraqis knocking on doors to ask the questions of these households," Hagopian says, explaining a 98 percent response rate reported from the survey. Heads of households were asked about family deaths, and household members were asked about sibling deaths stretching back decades.

"This is a really serious and credible piece of work," says epidemiologist Leslie Roberts of Columbia University in New York, who has led wartime mortality surveys in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, and Iraq. "I think having an accurate record of what happened is extremely important," he says, pointing to a 2005 comment by then U.S. President George Bush suggesting that only about 30,000 Iraqi civilians had died in the conflict.

Roberts agreed with Hagopian that the household survey estimate is likely conservative, because it relied on the imperfect recollections of household members and largely missed the 1.1 million Iraqis living in displaced-person camps or in other countries.

Overall, the survey results point to Baghdad as the epicenter of violent deaths during the war. Coalition forces were blamed for 35 percent of the killings, followed by militias at 32 percent. The report showed that warfare was particularly intense in 2007, followed by a sharp drop in 2008.

Sadly, the violence continues, notes Salman Rawaf, director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Public Health Education and Training, in a written commentary accompanying the survey. About 5,000 Iraqis have died in bombings and shootings this year, according to estimates by the French press agency, AFP.  The return of sectarian violence means "living in Iraq today is no longer about how many have died, but how future deaths should be prevented," says Rawaf.

Follow Dan Vergano on Twitter.

22 comments
abdullah osman
abdullah osman

Part of objective journalism is to ask questions the official narratives miss out. How is it possible for a periphery force to engage, match and even supercedes central power in an infintium militarily struggle? We know without a doubt that is not possible but yet all media outlets propagate this fictional story that it is fed to them through officials. I suppose what troubles them is to come to this realisation will mean current governments are all implicit in this conspiracy. They imagine it impossible because of simple ignorance how international relations work through the balance of power. 

Lesley Christensen
Lesley Christensen

How many people died in Twin Towers?
How many million have to die - didnt the Germans do the same in WWI - 50 persons for every one german killed - what is the ratio - well, a useless question because this is not at all about revenge or even hatred, it is all about GENOCIDE !!!

China China
China China

I am a China Man, feel very very sad, i believe this world is going to change, US will be no longer the leader of the world, please turn to China, and China will build an equal world, China will treat these countries equally, all the 3rd world countries please trust me, go and support China and China will not let you down, China has more than 5000 yrs history, enough experiences to handle the world

Bryan McNab
Bryan McNab

Bush's Iraqi adventure in real terms.. 

Dan Givens
Dan Givens

And no doubt the relatives of those half million dead view as liberators.
<end sarcasm>

Richard Alexander
Richard Alexander

I would like to see a breakdown of who actually killed who. I've met people online claiming that most of the deaths in Iraq are due to US troops shooting or executing civilians. A lot of people online deny that Islam is violent, so those deaths are from US personnel.

John C.
John C.

Now that the Americans and Saddam are gone, Muslims can get back to doing what they do best. Killing all the Christians, Jews and any other non-Muslims around, as well as any other Muslims they don't like. The religion of peace; the peace of the dead.

John Kalawak
John Kalawak

Oh geez...not this crap again. It doesn't count the dead. It just counts how many people are no longer there. Meaning it counts the dead, and the many MORE people who just got the hell out of the country the first chance they got when they knew they wouldn't be hunted down or killed, or their families wouldn't be tortured if they tried to leave.

This also strangely talks about "excess deaths" but doesn't factor in the hundreds of thousands of people who died under Saddam Hussein in the 90s. In other words, it is not a real study. IT is a joke that set out to come up with a specific finding and made sure it reached that finding.

tao observer
tao observer

The horrors of war were helped made possible by a gullible, nationalistic, U.S. mindset.

Dahszil Dahszil
Dahszil Dahszil

@Dan Givens Yeah, the US government and military liberated those half million Iraqis from life.  It has been estimated that the US government has directly or by proxy have killed 18 million human beings post ww2

Matthew Jones
Matthew Jones

@Richard Alexander Sunnis and Shiite Muslims executed one another with huge car and truck bombs throughout the Iraq war, killing hundreds at a time. Attributing all those deaths to US and coalition forces is small-minded don't you think?

abdullah osman
abdullah osman

@John C.  History says otherwise. The "religion of peace" was an imperial power for almost 1500 years with multi-nationals. multi-faith, multi-denominations and multi geographical areas. None of what you are propagating occurred. Islam was the first to outlaw (from its incipient) the targeting of noncombatants, children, women, elderly and priests. This is well documented from primary sources and is not in dispute. You are judging Islam from recent events of false flags operations by agent provocateurs and over zealous patsies.  I dare say you are also using out of contexts texts that anti-Muslims groups propagate. I can link you to similar one but about Judaism and Christianity. Non of course are based on anything other than misinterpretations and decontextualisation. 

Droidus McMoidus
Droidus McMoidus

@John Kalawak Can you read John? This study counts excess deaths, not 'people who are no longer there', In fact, if you'd gone beyond the headline, you may even have noticed that it even outlines causes of death and breaks these down by percentages.

Id also be interested hear why you would include deaths that occurred in the 90's in a study designed to measure the effects of an event which happened in 2003, though as you have brought it up, maybe it would be a useful exercise seeing as e approximately half a million children died as a result of sanctions during that period.

One thing I do agree with is that it is tiresome to see this 'crap' yet again. 10 years later and useful idiots are still denying that the US and its allies committed a terrible crime with the invasion of Iraq. That's the joke here, and it's not very funny.

John C.
John C.

So the horrors of post-war Iraq are made possible by a medieval, tribal Muslim against Muslim mindset.

T V
T V

@John C.  @John C. As Colin Powell told GWB: You break it, you own it... GWB broke it.  You can try to blame the worlds 1.6 billion Muslims if you want, but the truth is fairly well obvious.  Saddam Hussein's rule was fairly secular and nasty, but pales in comparison to what has happened since.  

GWB compared what he was doing to the Crusades, he was probably right.  Both were about money and resources, religion was simply the excuse.

Richard Alexander
Richard Alexander

@T V @John C. "Saddam Hussein's rule was fairly secular and nasty, but pales in comparison to what has happened since." No, it doesn't. Saddam buried 100k of his own citizens alive in mass graves. That's besides those he butchered in poison gas attacks, tossed off rooftops or tortured in his prisons.

John C.
John C.

You mean all the oil Bush stole? Funny, the New York Times never reported that story. Saddam killed more Muslims than anyone in history. He kept the peace by murdering and torturing the Shia Muslims, keeping his Sunni Muslims in control. When he was removed they didn't try to form a stable democratic country. They immediately set about killing each other, and have continued to this day. Bush thought he could change that dynamic, his faith in those savages was completely misguided.

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