The 2020 Global Terrorism Index shows Iraq recorded a reduction in terror-related deaths for the third consecutive year in 2019, with less than a thousand deaths recorded for the first time since the US invasion in 2003. The number of deaths from terrorism decreased from 1,054 in 2018 to 564 in 2019, a 46 per cent decrease. There was also a significant decline in the number of terrorist attacks, which more than halved from 1,131 in 2018 to 495 in 2019.
Terrorism and battle-related deaths have fallen significantly since their peak in 2014, with both reporting a 95 per cent decrease. Since 2001, there have been 66,689 deaths from terrorism in Iraq.
Terrorist activity in Iraq continues to be dominated by ISIL, with the group accounting for 66 per cent of all deaths in 2019. However, terror-related deaths attributed to ISIL have fallen substantially since their peak in 2016. ISIL was responsible for 374 deaths in 2019, a 53 per cent decline from the previous year.
Consistent with a decrease in ISIL’s terrorist activity, civilian deaths caused by the group also declined, falling by 69 per cent. The lethality of attacks on civilians has also decreased substantially from its peak in 2014 at 7.7 deaths per attack, to one death per attack in 2019.
The types of attacks conducted by ISIL have also shifted in recent years. There has been a notable decline in the number of complex, multi-stage attacks, such as car bombings and suicide attacks, which require developed logistical networks. Bombings and explosions declined by 80 per cent since their peak in 2016. In the same period, infrastructure attacks and armed assault increased by 225 and 41 per cent, respectively. Armed assaults by ISIL have predominantly targeted civilians and security forces. The majority of infrastructure attacks since 2016 have been incendiary attacks against farms, small businesses and civilian residences.
Suicide bombings by ISIL also fell in 2019, declining by 42 per cent from 2018, and have fallen 91 per cent since their peak in 2016. Of the 258 attacks perpetrated by ISIL in Iraq in 2019, 19 attacks or seven per cent were suicide bombings. This decrease in suicide bombings may be attributed to successful counterterrorism measures and a decline in fighter numbers.
Iraqi security forces continued to work with international partners to target ISIL sleeper cells and weapons caches in 2019. In October 2019, the US conducted a military operation that resulted in the death of the then ISIL leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Despite the fall in deaths from terrorism in 2019, ISIL remains a substantial threat. In Iraq, ISIL continues to operate in rural areas and has sought to re-establish support among populations in Ninevah, Kirkuk, Diyala, Saladin and Anbar provinces.