The UN says that at least 7,818 civilians and 1,050 members of the security forces were killed in Iraq in 2013, the highest numbers for years. But despite this – and despite a decade of bloodshed – the UN also says the overall population has been growing steadily. How can this be?
Estimates of how many people have died in Iraq since foreign troops entered the country in 2003, vary widely – from just over 100,000 to more than a million. The problems are easy to understand. Many deaths will certainly go unreported, while others may be counted twice. But there’s more to it than that. “The numbers are so different because they are counting different sorts of things,” says Dr Glen Rangwala, of the University of Cambridge’s Politics and International Studies department.
He sees two main ways of doing the sums. You can add up every mention of a violent death during the conflict. Or, alternatively, you can compare the overall death rate, before and after the invasion. The first method involves collecting figures from police, mortuary, or military records – even press reports. This is the technique employed by the Iraq Body Count, which estimates that between 120,000 and 133,000 civilians have died since 2003. The second method involves carrying out surveys of thousands of homes across Iraq, and asking about all deaths in the household, not just violent deaths.
If the country’s population has been rising, it has done so despite:
a rise in the death rate – which is the main reason for those big numbers that result from the second method of counting the dead
an exodus of refugees, put by the UNHCR at two to three million since the start of the war
How can this be possible? According to Patrick Gerland from the UN’s Demographic Estimates and Projections Section, DESA, it’s quite simple – there have been many more births than deaths. “A lot of families have a relatively large number of children, about four on average, or more,”. “The end result is that every year you keep adding about 600,000 more people in the country.”