Study: Coalition Forces Responsible For 12% of Civilian Deaths From Armed Violence In Iraq War

A recent independent study of civilian deaths resulting from armed violence in Iraq during the period 2003-2008 by the Public Library of Science Group has concluded that coalition forces are responsible for only 12% of such deaths. 11% were caused by anti-coalition forces and 74% by what are termed “unknown perpetrators, who targeted civilians and were indistinguishable from their victims (for example, a suicide bomber in a market).”

Researchers have found that while coalition forces accounted for 12 per cent of deaths and Iraqi forces 11 per cent, the vast majority of violent killings were killed by unknown perpetrators.

Of those by far the biggest proportion – around a third of the total – was summary executions and kidnappings between rival factions and gangs as law and order broke down.

The study by King’s College London, published in PLoS Medicine, provides the most detailed assessment so far of civilian deaths in the course of the conflict.

The entire peer reviewed study can be found here.

The data for the study was taken from the Iraq Body Count database, which has listed violent deaths from armed violence in Iraq since 2003 (along with the action that caused the death).    The findings suggest that destabilization of the region by criminals and anti-coalition groups was a key contributor to this violence.

Most Iraqi civilian violent deaths during 2003–2008 of the Iraq war were inflicted by Unknown perpetrators, primarily through extrajudicial executions that disproportionately increased in regions with greater numbers of violent deaths. Unknown perpetrators using suicide bombs, vehicle bombs, and mortars had highly lethal and indiscriminate effects on the Iraqi civilians they targeted. Deaths caused by Coalition forces of Iraqi civilians, women, and children peaked during the invasion period, with relatively indiscriminate effects from aerial weapons.

Execution by Unknown perpetrators was the most prevalent form of violent death affecting Iraqi civilians in 2003–2008. Although Unknown perpetrators’ motivations cannot be ascertained from our data, our findings are compatible with descriptive reports of Iraq’s postinvasion environment in this period, during which civilians were extensively abducted, ransomed, exchanged, and executed for financial or political gain, to destabilize Iraqi society, or to punish or deter “collaborators,” by perpetrators who strategically remained unidentifiable and who included a mixture of criminals, and sectarian and Anti-Coalition combatants, including within Iraqi security forces and police

I recommend that you read the entire study.  Over the past 7+ years there have been countless estimates of civilian deaths in the Iraq war.  And there have been an equal amount of opinions regarding the US-led (but wholly global) coalition’s responsibility for these deaths.  I hope that this study’s findings can educate the public about the nature of violence against civilians in the Iraq war and can contribute towards an accurate and fair assessment of coalition troops actions during the conflict.


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7 Responses to Study: Coalition Forces Responsible For 12% of Civilian Deaths From Armed Violence In Iraq War

  1. roopost says:

    “I hope that this study’s findings can educate the public about the nature of violence against civilians in the Iraq war and can contribute towards an accurate and fair assessment of coalition troops actions during the conflict.”


    I don’t think so, or at least it shouldn’t.

    Firstly, law and purpose govern soldier’s actions. A fair assessment of soldierly behaviour must be based upon these rules. Did the troops keep the laws under which they operate? Did they stay within the parameters of the rules of engagement? For the most part they did, and those who didn’t were suitably punished – in more than just the US.

    Regarding Iraq, and let’s face it while there was a coalition, some nation’s contributions to this effort were statistically insignificant. It was hardly, ‘wholly global’. So, we are really referring to US and British troops. As well, given their deployments, numbers, and local tactical situations we are focused more on areas where US troops are/were deployed, though a statistically significant number of such occurrences were documented, I’m sure, under UK Troop operations.

    While the results of the analysis show only a ‘small’ percentage of the deaths to civilians were caused by coalition troops, the study must concede that the conditions under which the results were possible were wholly created by the invasion undertaken by the coalition. This has nothing whatever to do with the ‘troops’. Soldiers don’t make the decision to invade a country. Soldiers may only be held accountable for their own behaviour in the execution of lawful orders.

    While civilian deaths and ‘collateral damage’ are tragic, given certain rules of engagement they may be unavoidable. While such actions may not be lauded, they can only be condemned within the context of the wider cause that placed soldiers in such a position where such results are possible.

    Some US and British troops have been called on the carpet for ‘unmilitary’ and abusive behaviour, rightly so. If the public however is so uninformed as to believe that 12% of civilian deaths is an acceptable number and thereby a vindication of troop actions, they there is little hope that the causes of such an invasion will be avoided in future.

    Invading Iraq in the first place was wrong headed. Dismantling the Iraqi Military and Police was wrong headed. Using soldiers, as police was wrong headed. None of these were the ‘troops’ decisions. The government(s) of the day made a mess of this action, for which 100% of civilian casualties are their responsibility. Filtering the numbers into packets while informative does not void this conclusion.

    Kind regards,


    • Gripweed says:

      Thank you for the reply, but I believe you are confusing the point of my post with a larger issue of the validation of the conflict as a whole. That is a point that I do not make, and do not hope to make by presenting this study. Nor do I imply that these statistics provide some sort of acceptability of 12% as a percentage of civilian deaths in a theater of conflict. Would the number have been 0 had the invasion not taken place? Of course. But it did and we are left with real numbers to assess.

      The image assessment to which I refer is in response to the very real effort undertaken between 2003 and 2009, no matter how fringe it may have been, to paint the military as unconcerned for the safety of civilians -some going so far as to imply the US forces were massacring civilians (see Murtha, John). Civilian death estimates have often been projected between 100,000 and one million. These numbers have generated a very real confusion surrounding the true (or closest approximate) number and how much coalition forces had to do with them.

      While you are correct that the majority of the coalition forces were US and British, a fine line must be walked in order to avoid denying other nations their due in assisting with the coalition efforts, whether through combat troop presence or by other means. Nearly 30 countries had troops on the ground in Iraq since 2003. So whether brought into the conflict by the US or not, they were there.

      One can think what they will of the decision to invade Iraq . That is immaterial to the figures that were presented by this report.

      • roopost says:


        Fair enough. I agree that there’s the facts and the truth as someone saw fit to shape it. It’s good to have the facts. Yet, these are not, nor should they be vindication of troops actions – US or otherwise.

        Kind regards,

  2. Drae says:

    “Invading Iraq in the first place was wrong headed.”

    Would leaving Saddam in power have been right headed? Allowing him to continue to violate the UN at will would have been right headed?

    I’m not trying to blindly defend the Iraq War – I have some issues with how everything went down – but to say it was simply wrong headed to invade Iraq suggests that the status quo was acceptable. The international community didn’t seem to think leaving Saddam in power was right headed.

    And how is it Saddam isn’t responsible for the civilian deaths? Had he complied with the UN, he’d likely still be in power today. Of course, the Iraqis would be living under tyranny again, which some people don’t seem to mind placing them back under, but Saddam was given years upon years of opportunity to “play nice.” He didn’t, but MY government is the bad guy here. Sorry – I just don’t see it that way.

    • roopost says:


      I’m not looking to co-opt Gripweed’s post as the forum for a debate on Iraq and the justification of removing Saddam Hussein by invading the country. Israel violates UN mandates, the US, Russia, and China don’t accept International Criminal Court Authority, and the list goes on. Interests change and adapt – not always for the right reasons – or if for the right reasons sometimes all the justification in the world can be undermined by poor strategic and tactical actions. So – yes, as the results show – wrong headed.

      As well, Hans Blix might have a few words to say on the subject of compliance. My point – soldiers should not be held accountable for the strategic decisions made by governments, provided that they behave lawfully in the execution of those strategies.

      Kind regards,

      • Drae says:

        You know, Roo – I was rather sorry I stuck my nose in it after I read Gripweed’s reply to you, and rather than continue, I will save my thoughts for another day. Perhaps some weekend when we all have a little time to have a nice back and forth going, though perhaps some topics might be better left over a beer.

  3. Infuriated says:

    “Israel violates UN mandates…”

    Such a lame entry. Without giving information regarding what UN mandates are and who make them in the first place. The UN is a political theater with a massive Arab lobby. You actually consider this to be fair territory? ~~Infuriated~~

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