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safer than canada? half of iraq deadly, other half more peaceful than us

Seerwan Jafar
A detailed statistical analysis of the homicide rates in various parts of Iraq shows that some provinces are actually safer than the US and even Canada, statistically speaking. Just under half the population lives…
1.11.2012  |  Dubai

Careful statistical comparisons indicate that Iraq is not as dangerous as news headlines regularly make it seem. In fact, in some parts of Iraq, the rate of homicides per head of population is lower than the murder rate in countries like the US. However in other parts of Iraq, the murder rate is far higher.

Since the 2003 Invasion of Iraq the country has experienced violence that has resulted in thousands of deaths and even more wounded every year. The worst period was from around February 2006 to May 2008 during a period of intense sectarian conflict that is now often described as Iraq’s civil war. Since then levels of violence have decreased significantly - yet they seem to remain quite high, in general. However when assessing just how high those levels are, it is also vital to note that Iraq is a very large country - 23 percent larger than Germany or 80 percent bigger than the UK, by area. So there will be provincial variations in levels of violence across the nation.

For example, it is widely thought that violence in southern Iraq has decreased since mid-2008 while levels remain high in places like Baghdad and in north-western Iraq. However just how different the levels in these different parts of Iraq are, is not widely known.

In order to do so, it is useful to compare rates of murders per head of population in other nations. For instance, most developed countries have between one and two murders per 100,000 people. Based upon the latest available figures – some of which come from as far back as 2009 - published in a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2012, Germany’s homicide rate is 0.8, or less than one person (0.8 percent of a person to be exact) per 100,000 people. Japan’s is 0.4 per 100,000 and the UK’s is 1.2 murders per 100,000 people. Among developed countries the US, with a homicide rate of 4.8 in 2010, or 4.8 murders per 100,000 locals, is an exception. The US has a much higher-than-average murder rate and this has been so historically.

Meanwhile Iraq has around 33 million inhabitants and the country is made up of 18 different provinces. If one looks at figures from the UK-based Iraqi Body Count project, it is possible to work out what the homicide rates might be in each of those provinces. The exact number of violent deaths in Iraq remains unknown and these figures are widely acknowledged to be among the most conservative because the Iraqi Body Count Project only counts confirmed deaths – taken from media reports and cross checked - and they do not make estimates.

Other studies have said the death count is far higher. However, even if conservative, they do indicate the general trends. Then figures for the populations in each province – also not exact – were taken from Iraq’s Central Office for Statistics.

And what emerges may best be described as two different Iraqs. One is what could be called “safe Iraq”. The other is “unsafe Iraq” - the Iraq that has been decimated by terrorism and rampant killing.

The following table shows the homicide rates for “unsafe Iraq” – that is, eight of the nation’s 18 provinces. While only around 57 percent of Iraqis live in “unsafe Iraq” they see up to 95 percent of Iraq’s violent deaths. The area, with an estimated population of between 18 and 19 million people has around 4,000 violent deaths annually. The contrast is glaring when compared with developed nations such as, for example, Australia, which has a population of 22 million. Australia recorded 263 murders in 2009 where “unsafe” Iraq recorded 4,628.

Unsafe Iraq­­

Province

Violent Deaths

Province Population

Deaths Per 100,000

2009

2010

2011

2009

2010

2011

2009

2010

2011

Baghdad

1,704

1,399

964

6,702,538

6,878,867

7,055,196

25.42

20.34

13.66

Anbar

433

382

498

1,483,359

1,522,383

1,561,407

29.19

25.09

31.89

Babel

332

211

300

1,729,666

1,775,170

1,820,673

19.19

11.89

16.48

Salahaddin

152

218

545

1,337,786

1,372,980

1,408,174

11.36

15.88

38.70

Diyala

574

564

528

1,371,035

1,407,104

1,443,173

41.87

40.08

36.59

Ninawa

1,066

703

673

3,106,948

3,188,685

3,270,422

34.31

22.05

20.58

Kirkuk

322

143

232

1,325,853

1,360,734

1,395,614

24.29

10.51

16.62

Karbala

45

149

122

1,013,254

1,039,911

1,066,567

4.44

14.33

11.44

Totals

4,628

3,769

3,862

18,070,439

18,545,833

19,021,226

25.61

20.32

20.30

Meanwhile “safe” Iraq is home to around 43 percent of Iraq\'s population in ten of its 18 provinces. Just over 40 percent of the Iraqi population lives in safe Iraq but they only see up to 7 percent of all of Iraq’s violent deaths. In fact, a closer look at homicide rates here show that some of the “safe” provinces were actually marginally safer than Canada in 2009 and 2011 and only slightly more dangerous in 2010. In those years Canada\'s murder rate was 1.77 and 1.67 in 2009 and 2011 respectively. In 2010, there were 1.8 murders per 100,000 Canadian locals. And “safe” Iraq is certainly far safer than the US, whose homicide rate of 1.67 compares well to the US’ homicide rate of 5.

Safe Iraq

Province

Violent Deaths

Province Population

Deaths per 100,000

2009

2010

2011

2009

2010

2011

2009

2010

2011

Qadisiya

19

7

42

1,077,614

1,105,964

1,134,313

1.76

0.63

3.70

Basra

50

111

55

2,405,434

2,468,716

2,531,997

2.08

4.50

2.17

Wasit

79

96

65

1,150,079

1,180,335

1,210,591

6.87

8.13

5.37

Dhi Qar

36

0

16

1,744,398

1,790,290

1,836,181

2.06

0.00

0.87

Erbil

30

5

12

1,532,081

1,572,387

1,612,692

1.96

0.32

0.74

Maysan

9

14

8

922,890

947,169

971,448

0.98

1.48

0.82

Dohuk

0

0

5

1,072,324

1,100,535

1,128,745

0.00

0.00

0.44

Muthana

0

1

1

683,126

701,098

719,069

0.00

0.14

0.14

Najaf

5

45

10

1,221,228

1,253,356

1,285,484

0.41

3.59

0.78

Sulaymaniyah

12

5

25

1,784,853

1,831,809

1,878,764

0.67

0.27

1.33

Totals

240

284

239

13,594,027

13,951,656

14,309,284

1.77

2.04

1.67

The difference between safe and unsafe Iraq offers a huge contrast. It’s unsettling to think that safe Iraq is about as safe as the UK or Canada and in fact, a lot safer than the US. Meanwhile unsafe Iraq is immensely unstable and still consumed by violence. It\'s comforting to think that half of Iraq\'s population has a life as safe as that in any developed country but it’s disturbing that the other half of Iraqis experience such an incredible level of violence and instability – and that they have been doing so since 2003.

This analysis also shows other interesting patterns. Safe Iraq is made up of the three provinces in the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan, where the population is predominantly Kurdish, and the seven southern provinces, where the population is predominantly Shiite Muslim. Ever since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq which toppled the regime of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the three Kurdish provinces have been relatively secure and stable. But the southern, Shiite-Muslim-majority did experience very high levels of violence post-2003, which peaked during the civil war; they have become more secure since 2009.

The unsafe parts of Iraq are mainly populated by Sunni Muslims. Unsafe Iraq also includes the capital, Baghdad. The exception here is the southern state of Karbala, a mainly Shiite Muslim province with a high homicide rate. The high homicide rate is mainly due to Karbala having a comparatively small population, yet, because it is a major centre for religious pilgrimages, it is also a target for extremists; bombing and other attacks that result in mass casualties skews the homicide ratio for this province. However, the number of violent deaths in Karbala is still relatively low and in general, Karbala is mostly safe.

So violence continues in the Sunni-Muslim-dominated provinces. Many extremist groups in Iraq used to cite the presence of US forces in Iraq as their reason for existing and for their violence. Yet US troops departed at the end of 2011 and figures on the Iraq Body Count’s website attest to the continuation of violence.

Over three years since 2009, violent deaths have stabilized at around 4,000 per year. And the trend looks set to continue in 2012 with Iraqi Body Count recording 3,187 deaths in the first nine months of this year. This kind of trend in Iraq resulted in what was called the “irreducible minimum theory”- US military leaders used the term to describe the fact that the number of violent deaths in Iraq would probably stay at around the same level unless there were major changes in the country.

All in all, the reason why some of Iraq is safe and other parts are unsafe involves a complex combination of factors.

There is a continuing lack of modern, competent and organized security services. There is also the fact that the provinces involved are in border areas, home to smuggling networks whose income routes via the long Iraq-Syria border became defunct after 2003.

Many of unsafe Iraq’s provinces are former bases for extremist Sunni Muslim groups like al-Qaeda; violence here also comes because of the clash between them and Iraq’s federal government forces.

Meanwhile the perpetrators of extremist and violent acts are a mixture of religious radicals, both local and foreign, die-hard elements from the former regime headed by Saddam Hussein, former army officers, unemployed youth without prospects, random criminal elements that emerged in the post-2003 chaos and which have yet to be subdued and more generally, violent elements that are supported by Iraqi political groups to utilize violence to advance their own political agendas.

Seerwan Jafar writes regularly about Iraq and other subjects on his blog: http://seerwan.blogspot.de/

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