Monday, April 27, 2009

Is Violence Increasing In Iraq?

A recent spate of mass casualty bombings in Iraq has many worried that violence is on the up tick, and that the security gains accomplished over the last year may be unravelling. On April 23 for example, there were two suicide bombings. One in Diyala was aimed at Iranian pilgrims killing 56 and leaving 39 wounded. The other was an attack in Baghdad on displaced families who were standing in line to receive food that claimed the lives of 22 and wounded 30. The next day two suicide bombers set off their devices near the Imam Musa al-Kadhim shrine in Baghdad’s Kadhimiya neighborhood that resulted in 60 dead and 125 wounded. Again, Iranian pilgrims were amongst the casualties. Some fear that this might be part of an effort by Al Qaeda in Iraq and Baathists to cause chaos as the U.S. withdraws its forces. On April 22 the Defense Department’s top Middle East official, Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Colin Kahl echoed this thought telling the Associated Press that security incidents were likely to increase over the next few months as well. The U.S. is also emptying its jails as required under the Status of Forces Agreement releasing thousands of prisoners, worrying some that a few will return to the insurgency. One ex-detainee already killed himself in a suicide attack. When looking at the numbers for casualties and security incidents however, it appears that the level of violence in Iraq is simply returning to what it was in 2008 before a dip at the beginning of 2009.

Number Of Attacks

The last numbers released by the Pentagon showed a steady decline in attacks at the end of 2008. From April to September 2008 Iraq averaged 1,749.8 attacks per month. In the last two months of the year however that dropped to 1,169 per month. This decrease occurred across the country even in the six most violent provinces, Anbar, Tamim, Diyala, Salahaddin, Ninewa, and Baghdad. In Baghdad for example, the site of the most violence in the country, the number of attacks went from 924 from July 1, to September 30, to 511 from October 1 to December 31, 2008. Numbers for 2009 have not been released so far, but other statistics on violence show that this year has not reached 2008 levels yet.

Reports on attacks on Coalition and Iraqi institutions and bombings do not show much of an increase. The latest chart released by the Pentagon on enemy attacks on the Coalition, Iraqi Forces, infrastructure, and government facilities shows that from June to November 2008 there were around 200-300 such incidents a week. In the middle of November 2008 to April 2009 however, such attacks dropped to below 200. The Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index found that there were an average of 20.66 mass casualty bombings per month for the last half of 2008. In the first three and half months of 2009 there were an average of 12. The average monthly number of deaths resulting from such bombings went from 167.16 from July to December 2008 down to 116.85 from January to April 15, 2008. The number of such attacks remained fairly constant from January to March 2009 with 11, 11, 9 respectively, but half way through April there were already 11. The number of deaths also increased each time going from 89 in January to 105 in February to 143 in March.

Number of Mass Casualty Bombings
July 19
August 22
Sep. 22
Oct. 14
Nov. 24
Dec. 23
TOTAL: 124
Monthly Avg. 20.66 attacks

Jan. 11
Feb. 11
March 9
April 1-15 11
Monthly Avg. 12 attacks

Deaths from mass casualty bombings
July 181
Aug. 195
Sep. 164
Oct. 102
Nov. 169
Dec. 192
TOTAL: 1,003
Monthly Avg. 167.16 deaths

Jan. 89
Feb. 105
March 143
April 1-15 - 72
TOTAL: 409
Monthly Avg. 116.85

The number of deaths overall in Iraq are also going up in 2009, but they are not up to the levels of 2008 either. As reported before, there are several different sources for casualties in Iraq. They range from the high of Iraq Body Count to the low of Despite their differences all the reports follow the same broad trends. According to Iraq Body Count there were an average of 538.16 deaths per month from July to December 2008. August had the most casualties with 591, while November had the lowest at 472. From January to April 23, 2009, there were an average of 327.75 deaths. In January there were 275, going up to 343 in February, and then reaching 392 in March. From April 1 to 22 there were 301 deaths. although much lower than Iraq Body Count had the same pattern with deaths slowly declining at the end of 2008 and then taking a large drop in 2009. From July to December 2008 there were an average of 336.83 deaths, compared to 222.33 in the first three months of 2009. Numbers provided by Iraq’s ministries show the same thing with casualties going down in 2008 only to go back up in 2009, but still not reaching the previous year’s. From July to December 2008 they claimed there were an average of 454 deaths per month, which then went down to 233 per month in 2009.

Iraq Body Count - Iraqi Death Numbers

July 583
August 591
Sep. 535
Oct. 527
Nov. 472
Dec. 521
TOTAL: 3,229
Monthly Avg. 538.16

Jan. 275
Feb. 343
March 392
April 1-23 301
TOTAL: 1,311
Monthly Avg. 327.75 - Iraqi Death Numbers

July 419
Aug 311
Sep. 366
Oct. 288
Nov. 317
Dec. 320
TOTAL: 2,021
Monthly Avg. 336.83

Jan. 187
Feb. 202
March 278
TOTAL: 667
Monthly Avg. 222.33

Iraqi Ministries - Iraqi Death Numbers As Reported In The English Language Media

July 851
Aug. 462
Sep. 440
Oct. 317 or 320
Nov. 340
Dec. 316
TOTAL: 2,726 or 2,729
Monthly Avg. 454.3 or 454.8

Jan. 191
Feb. 258
March 252
TOTAL: 701
Monthly Avg. 233.66

Iraq remains a very violent and deadly country. The recent spate of bombings reminds people of the human toll of the war, which is far from over. Early speculation that the country might be spiraling downward however, seem to be premature. While attacks and deaths are creeping back up, they are still not at December 2008 levels, let alone the rest of the previous year. What appears to have happened is that insurgent groups decided to hold off on some of their activities as the January 2009 provincial elections occurred. This was probably because so many Sunni parties were participating for the first time in local balloting. With that completed the militants have gone back to what they were doing before, and casualties, bombings, etc., have all gone up as a result. If the number of attacks eventually goes above the levels seen in the last half of 2008 than that would be a strong indicator that the security gains are withering and that Iraq is entering into a new phase of violence. If they only go back to what they were however, it just shows that the early 2009 decline was temporary rather than the beginning of a new trend.


Agence France Presse, “March violence claims 252 Iraqi lives,” 4/1/09
- “Iraq Hails Lowest Monthly Death Toll in Three Years,” 1/2/09

Alsumaria, “Iraq death toll lowest since five years,” 2/2/09
- “Iraq violence kills 320 people in October,” 11/1/08

Al-Ani, Abbas, “Ten killed in truck bombing at Iraqi market,” Middle East Online, 3/5/09

Associated Press, “AP count: Iraqi civilian, security details drop to near lowest level,” 3/3/09

Aswat al-Iraq, “60 killed, 113 wounded, al-Baghdadi arrested in Iraq,” 4/23/09
“Diala suicide blast casualties up to 95,” 4/24/09
“URGENT/Kadhemiya death toll up to 60, wounded 125,” 4/24/09

Jakes, Lara, “Pentagon: Insurgent attacks likely to rise in Iraq,” Associated Press, 4/22/09

Karim, Ammar, “Iraq death toll for February ‘rises to 258,’” Agence France Presse, 3/1/09

Kenyon, Peter, “Billboards Serve As Reminders Of Death In Baghdad,” Morning Edition, NPR, 9/9/08

Myers, Steven Lee and Dagher, Sam, “At Least 60 More Are Killed in Attacks in Baghdad,” New York Times, 4/24/09

O’Hanlon, Michael Campbell, Jason, “Iraq Index,” Brookings Institution, 4/16/09

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Deaths of Iraqis in July Lower Than in May, June,” Washington Post, 8/2/08

Reilly, Corinne and Hammoudi, Laith, “Attacks in Iraq kill dozens; fears mount of wider violence,” McClatchy Newspapers, 4/23/09

Rubin, Alissa, “Iraqi Militants Show New Boldness,” New York Times, 4/1/09

Rubin, Alissa and Santora, Marc, “Bomber Kills Dozens in Iraq as Fears of New Violence Rise,” New York Times, 3/11/09

Williams, Timothy, “80 Are Killed in 3 Suicide Bombings in Iraq,” New York Times, 4/23/09

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