Iraq: Doing the Math

Iraq: Doing the Math (StrategyPage)

The death toll from anti-government Sunni Arab violence continues to rise. There are now 100-150 deaths a week. That may sound like a lot, especially the way each incident is breathlessly reported in the media. But for a country of 26 million, that comes to a rate of 14-20 dead per 100,000 population per year. Other countries are more violent, like Columbia and South Africa, but these are not considered news. Iraq̢۪s death rate is about the same as was suffered by Thailand̢۪s rebellious Moslem provinces last year. The Japanese army suicide rate last year was 39 per 100,000.

But for Iraqis, there has been a large increase. While the United States death rate from violence is 5-6 per 100,000, under Saddam, the death rate from crime and government terror was 10-20 dead per 100,000 per year. It was at that rate a year ago, but the death rate from this violence has nearly tripled since then. Moreover, the deaths fall disproportionately in Sunni Arab areas. That means the death rate among Sunni Arab civilians is much higher than it is among Kurds or Shia Arabs. While the anti-government groups try to make attacks in non-Sunni Arab areas, this is much more difficult. The Kurds and Shia Arabs are armed and alert to any strangers in their midst. The police are recruited locally, and Kurdish police in particular are not intimidated by Sunni Arab violence. A disproportionate number of the police on SWAT teams and in riot police units are Kurds. Many Shia Arabs join the police out of a desire to get back at the Sunni Arabs who killed a family member. Shia Arab police are much less likely to flee in the face of massive Sunni Arab violence.

Another strange pattern is that, while 75 percent of the attacks are made on American troops, Iraqis suffer 80 percent of the deaths. This is because the American troops are much better at defending themselves. Most attacks on American troops fail, or result in a deadly counterattack. The anti-government forces know that the attacks on Iraqis are unpopular with Iraqis. And Iraqis don̢۪t like to make attacks on other Iraqis, nor do the foreign volunteers for al Qaeda. However, the damage is already done. The Baath Party was always hated by most Iraqis, including most Sunni Arabs. The violence of the last year has made Baath even more hated. Same with al Qaeda, which is behind most of the car bomb deaths, and some of the most prominent atrocities (like attacks that killed many school children.)

Interesting. Of course, the reason the killings in Iraq are news is that they have been precipitated by the presence of American (and other Coalition) forces.

One wonders what’s going on with the Japanese military. . . .

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Er… could somebody explain to me how going from “10-20 dead per 100,000” to “14-20 dead per 100,000” constitutes tripling?

  2. Zed Pobre says:

    The 14-20 part only covers “anti-government Sunni Arab violence”. The death toll from “crime and government terror” all together is now “nearly triple ” the 10-20 figure.

  3. Jim Henley says:

    Okay, this article isn’t even intelligible on first read. How can

    But for a country of 26 million, that comes to a rate of 14-20 dead per 100,000 population per year.

    and

    under Saddam, the death rate from crime and government terror was 10-20 dead per 100,000 per year.

    and

    It was at that rate a year ago, but the death rate from this violence has nearly tripled since then.

    be made to make sense together. How is 14-20 per 100,000 thrice 10-20 per 100,000?

    That’s leaving aside the author’s quaint notion that what matters is whether someone from StrategyPage considers that a high death rate, as opposed to whether someone from Iraq does.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Jim and Russell,

    Good point on the stats. I presume that “from this violence” is a subset of the overall death rate which has gone up markedly while the overall numbers have remained steady. It could have been written more clearly, however.

    Surely, what matters is the Iraqi view. It is worth noting, though, that the rates in places off the radar screen is higher. Colombia doesn’t surprise me given the narco-terrorism, but I certainly didn’t realize the South African rate was higher.

  5. Colin says:

    Some math you’re doing there! Your figures don’t include either civilians killed or the random violence which exists outside the “war against terror”. Kidnappings and murder are apparently soaring out of control and certainly are not included in your astonishly low figures for violent deaths. There is little or no reporting of violence in the provinces – it’s more than a little bit dangerous for journalists to leave the Green Zone in downtown Baghdad.
    Let’s face it, Fallujah has been razed and liberated at the same time. It looks like Grozny! Various reliable sources indicate that there have been at least 20,000 and quite possibly more than 100,000 civilian deaths as a direct result of American military action in Iraq as a whole.
    This equates to dozens, maybe tens of dozens, of civilian casualties every day since the invasion way back in 2003!
    The notion that somehow everything is actually going quite well in Iraq, and that it is comparable to Thailand for security purposes is quite simply a lie. There have been dozens of reported violent deaths in the Baghdad area alone over the last 24 hours, including heavily armed US troops! Get real.

  6. bryan says:

    Various reliable sources indicate that there have been at least 20,000 and quite possibly more than 100,000 civilian deaths as a direct result of American military action in Iraq as a whole.

    Any source that gives you a margin of error of 80,000 is hardly what I’d call reliable, Colin.

  7. Pine Bluff and Mosul
    Here’s a list of MSA’s (Metropolitan Statistical Areas) in the United States. New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA Victoria, TX Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, MI Pine Bluff, AR Laredo, TX Shreveport-Bossier City, LA Richmond, VA …what’s interesting about th…

  8. LJD says:

    “And Iraqis don’t like to make attacks on other Iraqis, nor do the foreign volunteers for al Qaeda.”

    They don’t? It sure seems like they do…
    …and what “foreign volunteers for Al Qaeda”? I thought this was supposed to be a domestic resistance to occupation? Right.

  9. Zed,

    I agree that’s probably the case, but it’s not how the article read to me.