Iraq's government has recorded 87,215 of its citizens killed since 2005 in violence ranging from catastrophic bombings to execution-style slayings, according to government statistics obtained by The Associated Press that break open one of the most closely guarded secrets of the war.
Combined with tallies based on hospital sources and media reports since the beginning of the war and an in-depth review of available evidence by The Associated Press, the figures show that more than 110,600 Iraqis have died in violence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The number is a minimum count of violent deaths. The official who provided the data to the AP, on condition of anonymity because of its sensitivity, estimated the actual number of deaths at 10 to 20 percent higher because of thousands who are still missing and civilians who were buried in the chaos of war without official records.
Only violent deaths
The Health Ministry has tallied death certificates since 2005, and late that year the U.N. began using them - along with hospital and morgue figures - to publicly release casualty counts. But by early 2007, when sectarian violence was putting political pressure on the U.S. and Iraqi governments, the Iraqi numbers disappeared. The United Nations "repeatedly asked for that cooperation" to resume but never received a response, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said.
The data measure only violent deaths - people killed in attacks such as the shootings, bombings, mortar attacks and beheadings that have ravaged Iraq. It excluded indirect factors such as damage to infrastructure, health care and stress that caused thousands more to die. Authoritative statistics for 2003 and 2004 do not exist. Iraq Body Count, a private British-based group that has tallied civilian deaths from media reports and other sources since the war's start, estimated the death range between 91,466 and 99,861, but excluding police and soldiers.
The numbers show just how the tramautic war has been for Iraq. In a nation of 29 million people, the deaths represent 0.38 percent of the population. Security has improved since the worst years, but almost every person in Iraq has been touched by the violence. "We have lost everything," said Badriya Abbas Jabbar, 54. A 2007 truck bombing targeting a market near her Baghdad home killed three granddaughters, a son and a niece.
The Health Ministry figures indicate such violence was tremendously deadly. Of the 87,215 deaths, 59,957 came in 2006 and 2007, when sectarian attacks soared and death squads roamed the streets. The period was marked by catastrophic bombings and execution-style killings.
Quantifying the loss has always been difficult. Records were not compiled centrally, and the brutal insurgency sharply limited on-the-scene reporting. The U.S. military never shared its data. Experts said the count constitutes an important baseline, albeit an incomplete one. Richard Brennan, who has done mortality research in Congo and Kosovo, said it is likely a "gross underestimate" because many deaths go unrecorded in war zones.
The toll in Iraq has been a disputed subject because of the high political stakes in a war opposed by many nations and by a large portion of the Americans. Critics on each side accuse the other of manipulating the numbers to sway opinion. There are other clues to the death toll, such as the number of people buried at the main Shiite cemetery in the holy city of Najaf.
But even there, the deaths are limited mostly to Shiites and include natural as well as violent causes, so they cannot be considered definitive. The director of the cemetery office, Ammar al-Ithari, said the number of burials jumped from just over 32,000 in 2004 and 2005 to nearly 50,000 in 2006 and 54,000 in 2007. It fell to 40,000 last year, as violence declined.