Map Room

The Iraq War Never Ended

Mapping nearly 12 years of violence in 42 seconds shows that the war America started still rages on.

Iraqi Shiite tribesmen brandish their weapons as they gather to show their willingness to join Iraqi security forces in the fight against Jihadist militants who have taken over several northern Iraqi cities, on June 17 2014, in the southern Shiite Muslim shrine city of Najaf. Fighting erupted at the northern approaches to Baghdad Tuesday as Iraq accused Saudi Arabia of backing militants who have seized swathes of territory in an offensive the UN says threatens its very existence. AFP PHOTO/HAIDAR HAMDANI (Photo credit should read HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images)

According to the latest report by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, a total of 7,818 civilians and 1,050 security forces died in violent attacks across Iraq in 2013 — making last year the bloodiest in Iraq since 2008. As the Syrian Civil War continues into its third year and militants, including al Qaeda-affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams, take advantage of Iraq’s porous border, conflict has escalated again. Thousands are dying in a renewed wave of car bombs, suicide attacks, assassinations, and firefights.

Violence in Iraq has swelled and ebbed since the U.S. invasion in 2003.  The civilian toll of the war averaged around 13,000 deaths each year from 2003 through 2005, but as the country was convulsed by insurgency and civil war, casualties skyrocketed to nearly 30,000 civilian deaths in 2006, according to Iraq Body Count, a British-based NGO that runs an online database of civilian deaths. Those numbers tapered off as the U.S. military and Iraqi government co-opted insurgents during the Anbar Awakening and surged forces to restive areas, and in 2010 the figure reached a low of 4,110 civilian deaths. From 2010 through 2012, even after the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Dec. 2011, civilian casualties hovered around 4,000 deaths each year. But, with a sharp spike in attacks since Spring 2013, that lull has ended. Iraq Body Count noted in its 2013 end-of-year review that “while 1,900 civilians were killed between October 2012 and March 2013, 6,300 were killed between April and October 2013.”

This map tracks the toll of war and terrorism on Iraq’s civilians over the last decade. It visualizes approximately 35,000 incidents from January 2003 to September 2013, drawing on data from the incidents dataset released by the Iraq Body Count. The dataset does not include any military or insurgent casualties. Every red flare represents a violent incident resulting in the death of one or more people. The brighter a flare is, the more incidents occurred in that specific time and place.

The map does not presume to be an exhaustive account of violent incidents in Iraq, though Iraq Body Count stresses that their figures “are not ‘estimates’ but a record of actual, documented violent deaths” drawn from crosschecked media reports integrated with the information from hospitals, morgues, NGOs, and other official reports. The civilian toll of the war in Iraq over the last decade is still hotly contested, and Iraq Body Count is just one of several tallies. What the map does illustrate is the paroxysm of violent attacks that seized Iraq, the relative reprieve of the past several years, and escalating violence returning to the country.

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