Iraq Body Count: data collection and analysis on security

The Iraq Body Count (IBC) project collects data from a variety of reliable sources to create an accurate picture of violent civilian deaths in Iraq following the 2003 invasion. The project has been a key resource for informing international policy regarding casualties of war as a result of campaigns in the Middle East.

IBC project large


Research background

Iraq Body Count (IBC) records the violent deaths that have resulted from the 2003 military intervention in Iraq. Its detailed public database includes civilian deaths caused by US-led coalition and Iraqi government forces and paramilitary or criminal attacks by others. It is a human security project launched in 2003, twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, that has received funding from the following bodies:

  • ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) with means of the German Federal Foreign Office
  • The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust
  • The Funding Network
  • The Network for Social Change
  • The Sigrid Rausing Trust
  • Princeton University
  • Landmine Action
  • The Small Arms Survey.

Research aims

The overarching aims of this research are to document, identify and acknowledge civilian deaths during conflict. Other objectives in support of this aim include:

  • Ensuring that the information produced is adequate and accessible as a basis for addressing the rights and needs of victims.
  • Take all relevant actions at the national level and work with others to develop an international framework for casualty recording.
  • Enable timelier, transparent, reliable and comprehensive monitoring of armed violence, including its impact on specific groups, gives a human face to the many nameless, hidden, and often distant victims of armed violence.
  • To provide essential information for all parties to take every possible step to protect civilians from armed violence, thereby encouraging them to do so.
  • To uphold and advance the rights of victims of armed violence.
  • To bring states and parties to armed violence into better compliance with the spirit as well as the letter of international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, and to hopefully support post-conflict recovery and reconciliation.

Research methods

Data collection was made through various sources, including official reports and data from:

The police, military and intelligence, hospitals and medico-legal institutions, courts, integrative and incident-based reports produced by governments, press and media reports, NGOs and human rights organisations, religious organisations, social media.

After data collection there is assembling of data, recording/entering into a database and, finally, data analysis.

Outcomes and impact 

IBC received two Nobel Peace Prize nominations, in 2015 and 2016, for its outstanding contribution to research in security and human rights, as well as for its impact on policy regarding casualties of war as a result of campaigns in the Middle East.

The impact of this research was almost immediate and is continuing to this day. Specific casualty information derived from the IBC database has informed analysis, comment, and advocacy in relation to the current conflict in Iraq. Significant references to the IBC project have been made in wider ongoing discussions about the ethical, legal, and methodological aspects of monitoring casualties of conflict, in Iraq and elsewhere.

IBC receives specific press and media regular enquiries for data and comment on civilian casualties and has done so since 2003. Use of IBC data, interviews and features on this work can be found in The Guardian, BBC and Reuters reports, The Independent, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Russia Today, Associated Press, The Huffington Post and many others.

US and UK governments and government bodies have also used IBC data, starting with the US Military and Iraqi Casualty Statistics report to Congress in April 2005 and, in the UK, with the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw referring to IBC’s work in his written response to the Lancet Iraq Mortality Study of October 2004. A number of parliamentary debates and questions have placed Iraq Body Count data on the official record of the UK Parliament: e.g. House of Lords Debate, 16th March 2005, speech of Lord Rea.

The European Union: IBC data is integrated with other open-source data on Iraq by the Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen, which is a research unit within the European Union’s Joint Research Centre. The Institute uses such data to update a “Global Atlas in Support of Crisis Management”.

International Criminal Court (ICC): Iraq Body Count provided evidence to the Office of the Prosecutor ICC in relation to investigations of potential war crimes committed in Iraq by states bound by the jurisdiction of the court. The judgement of the Prosecutor dated 9th February 2006 cites IBC data. Lawyers representing  Iraqi refugees facing forcible return to Iraq have also drawn upon IBC’s detailed data to highlight the dangers their clients would face in Iraq.

The World Health Organisation (WHO): IBC is a member of the WHO “Ad-hoc expert group on Mortality Estimates for Iraq” and gave an invited presentation entitled “Iraq Body Count; an assessment” at the inaugural meeting of the group, Geneva, May 2007. IBC data was used to estimate relative death rates in missing clusters to augment a household survey conducted by WHO and COSIT, “Violence-Related Mortality in Iraq from 2002 to 2006” (New England Journal of Medicine, 2008). 

Peacerights, UK: IBC data was used as evidence in an enquiry into the alleged commission of war crimes by coalition forces in Iraq in 2003, and in further investigations of potential legal violations. Since 2004, the Brookings Institute has published a twice-weekly Iraq Index. The index constantly updates statistics on all aspects of the Iraq conflict and reconstruction efforts. IBC is a primary ongoing data source for the Brookings civilian casualty figures.

The Iraq Commission, UK (July 2007):  Jointly sponsored by the Foreign Policy Centre and Channel 4 TV, this cross-party commission chaired by former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, took evidence from many sources, and received a written submission from Iraq Body Count.

Chilcot Report (Iraq War Inquiry): The Inquiry received a number of substantive submissions relating to the human cost of the conflict in Iraq, including from: Mr Hamit Dardagan and Professor John Sloboda for the Iraq Body Count (IBC) project. In its submission to the Inquiry, IBC argued that the Inquiry should take full and proper account of Iraqi casualties resulting from the conflict and the subsequent breakdown in security.  It continued: “One of the most important questions in situations of armed conflict and in the laws of war is whether the use of force has been a proportionate response to the threat that prompted it ... It is impossible to establish the wisdom of actions taken ... if the full consequences in human welfare are not taken into account. Casualty data are perhaps the most glaring indication of the full costs of war.” (The Iraq Inquiry, 2016, section 17, p. 171).

Small Arms Survey, Geneva:  IBC data is being used by a research team led from the Small Arms Survey (SAS) in a “Violence Reporting Project” to assess whether the reporting of individual incidents of armed violence by the media and other outlets can be used as a reliable proxy indicator to measure actual levels of violence. This follows directly from IBC’s participation in a SAS-hosted meeting on methodologies used by researchers to estimate numbers of armed conflict deaths held February 2006 under COST Action A 25 (European Small Arms and the Perpetuation of Violence).