International Review of the Red Cross

Conflict in Iraq

Wartime estimates of Iraqi civilian casualties

Beth Osborne Daponte1*


Challenges exist when making reliable and valid estimates of civilian mortality due to war. This article first discusses a framework used to examine war's impact on civilians and then considers challenges common to each statistical approach taken to estimate civilian casualties. It examines the different approaches that have been used to estimate civilian casualties associated with the recent fighting in Iraq to date and compares the results of different approaches. The author concludes by proposing that after fighting has ceased, other approaches to estimating Iraqi civilian mortality, such as post-war retrospective surveys and demographic analysis, should be employed.


1 Beth Osborne Daponte, Ph.D., is senior research scholar at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University.

* The author thanks William Arkin and other participants in the February 2006 Conference on Casualties and Warfare, held by the Triangle Institute for Security Studies at Duke University, for comments on a previous version of this paper, as well as Anthony Smith, Jr, for his comments on an earlier draft.