Attrition: The Terrorist Death Rate


October 7,2008:  Last month, terrorist deaths in Iraq were 359. That's an annual rate of about 17 per 100,000 people per year. As things settle down, it's been easier to get a better idea of what the civilian losses have been over the last five years. In that time, the terrorist death rate has averaged about 60 per 100,000. A century ago, during the four year Philippine Insurrection, civilians died at the rate of about 600 per 100,000 population per year. As in Iraq, many of those deaths were the result of local factions fighting each other. During the Vietnam war, the civilian death rate from military operations was about 400 per 100,000 per year, and, again, a lot of these were due to Vietnamese fighting each other. Most of the violence in the world is locals fighting each other over local issues. The media likes to put a different spin on this local fighting (making it seem like part of a larger plot or external influence). But violence, like politics, tends to be intensely local in its origins.

Up through the Summer of 2005 in Iraq, the death rate was running at about 45 dead per 100,000 population per year. This is far higher than the usual rate in Middle Eastern countries (under 10 per 100,000). Well, most of the time. During civil wars and insurrections, the rate has spiked to over 100 per 100,000, sometimes for several years in a row. During Saddam's long reign, the Iraqi death rate from democide (the government killing its own people) averaged over 100 per 100,000 a year. This does not include the several hundred thousand killed during the war with Iran in the 1980s. During 2006-7, the rate peaked, as the terrorists were defeated, and the death rate plummeted.

In Afghanistan, the death rate for civilians, mostly from Taliban violence, has been 6-7 dead per 100,000 people, in the last two years. But just like Iraq, the media concentrates mainly on the incidents of violence, and not the pattern and overall intensity.

American military losses are also way down in Iraq. In September, 25 U.S. troops died, but most (two-thirds) of those were from accidents and disease. During the last five months, U.S. deaths in Iraqi have averaged about 23 a month, with less than half of them because of combat.



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