According to the most rigorous research yet, in the region of half a million Iraqis died as a result of the war and occupation of their country between 2003 and 2011. There are always questions about the reliability of data on war deaths, given the difficulties of conducting a comprehensive survey in a war zone. Equally, there are always political controversies over the figures themselves. In the case of Iraq, a lower-than-usual toll may be co-opted by proponents to justify intervention, and a higher one may be grist to the mill of its opponents. But such disputes should not distract from the fact that the tally is unconscionably horrific either way.
Worse, much blood is still being shed. The war itself may have officially ended with the withdrawal of US troops in 2011, but the deaths continue. Indeed, unrest is steadily increasing thanks to the Syrian uprising. Not only have events over the border added to the long-standing strains on Sunni/Shia relations, they have also been a fillip to the extremist groups that are active throughout the region and particularly in unstable Iraq.
Although sectarian violence reached its peak five years ago, it is now back on the rise. With 5,000-plus deaths since April, this year is already the bloodiest since 2008. In fact, nearly 1,000 people were killed in Iraq last month alone – the majority of them Shia civilians wiped out by bombs exploded at funerals, say, or markets, to ensure maximum bloodshed.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has not helped. By consistently failing to conciliate Iraq’s Sunni majority, his incompetent, corrupt, Shia-dominated government has only pushed the disaffected into the arms of murderous extremists. Meanwhile, so long as conflict in Syria continues, Iraq will suffer from its backwash.
Half a million Iraqis dead in the war is appalling enough. But it is not over yet.