Death Rate in Iraq

If we watch the news, we all know how terrible things are in Iraq. When milestones such as the 2,000th and 2,500th deaths are reached, we celebrate observe the passing in the headlines.

So just how deadly, statistically, is the quagmire? Why not compare the death rates of soldiers in Iraq to the death rates of civilians in America?

How much more deadly is Iraq? Five times as deadly? Ten? Twenty? More?

Well, okay, to be honest the death rate among US civilians is twice as high as the death rate for US military personnel in Iraq.

Now, obviously, the US civilian death rate includes all sorts of people dying from all sorts of things, including disease and natural causes. Since no one serving in Iraq is a senior citizen with a worn-out body susceptible to just about anything, the comparison isn’t really very fair. Worth noting, but not very fair.

So let’s look at the death rate in Iraq compared to US civilian men ages 18-39. This pretty much encompasses the range of combat soldiers in Iraq, and a large portion of the support personnel as well.

How much more deadly is Iraq? Five times as deadly? Ten? Twenty? More? (Remember, we’re comparing relatively healthy young men at home in the States to men who go out of their way to get shot at and blown up by terrorists and insurgents.)

The answer, believe it or not, is that Iraq is just over 2.5 times as deadly as America. See Service in Iraq: Just How Risky? in the Washington Post.

Think about that for a moment. Your odds of dying in Iraq are more than twice as great as they are of dying in America, and that sounds bad.

But just how likely do you think you are to die in America? If you’re like most people, you probably think that you’re very, very unlikely to die. I suspect that everyone realizes that it’s not impossible to die today, of course, but very few will really ever give it a second thought.

In Iraq we have military personnel whose mission is to fight the enemy. Their job is to drive down road that they know might have been mined. They regularly dive through neighborhoods where they know snipers are just waiting for an opportunity to kill an American. They kick in doors and raid houses that they suspect contain enemy fighters who own massive amounts of deadly weaponry.

But yet, in this environment that has a foundation of combat and death, they are only two and a half times as likely to die as a regular young man in America.

This fact certainly doesn’t minimize the loss of life that US forces have suffered. It doesn’t lessen the grief of the family and friends of those killed. But doesn’t it help put some of the breathless media reports and political rhetoric into perspective?

As of today, the US has lost 2621 military personnel in Iraq according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.

Compare that to the pre-invasion estimates. They varied widely, but I think the most common number I heard was 10,000 dead, 5,000 of them in the bloody battle for the streets of Baghdad alone. Now, I never bought those numbers, but even I thought the number was going to be 4,000 to 6,000. And none of those estimates included the post-victory occupation and stabilizing period.

Just don’t lose sight of the fact that nearly everyone everywhere predicted something far, far worse. And don’t lose sight of the fact that service in Iraq isn’t nearly as deadly as media reports probably lead you to believe.


  1. An interesting bit to add to this story would be a list over ‘everyday’ civilian jobs (construction worker or something) that has an approximately equal mortality rate to serving in Iraq. Also, a list of common jobs that are significantly more dangerous than serving in Iraq would be useful. You know, for when you just can’t get the ‘idea’ across to someone sitting in the bar with you, and a good concrete example is worth more than all the statistics in the world.