Background: In 1999 UNICEF, in cooperation with the government of Iraq and the local authorities in the "autonomous" (northern Kurdish) region, conducted two similar surveys to provide regionally representative and reliable estimates of child mortality (the subject of this paper) and maternal mortality.
Methods: In a cross-sectional household survey in the south/centre of Iraq in February and March, 1999, 23105 ever-married women aged 15-49 years living in sampled households were interviewed by trained interviewers with a structured questionnaire that was developed using the Demographic and Health Surveys questionnaire and following a pre-test. In a similar survey in the autonomous region in April and May 14 035 ever-married women age 15-49 were interviewed.
Findings: In the south/centre, infant and under-5 mortality increased during the 10 years before the survey, which roughly corresponds to the period following the Gulf conflict and the start of the United Nations sanctions. Infant mortality rose from 47 per 1000 live births during 1984-89 to 108 per 1000 in 1994-99, and under-5 mortality rose from 56 to 131 per 1000 live births. In the autonomous region during the same period, infant mortality declined from 64 to 59 per 1000 and under-5 mortality fell from 80 to 72 per 1000. Childhood mortality was higher among children born in rural areas, children born to women with no education, and in boys, and these differentials were broadly similar in the two regions.
Interpretation: Childhood mortality clearly increased after the Gulf conflict and under UN sanctions in the south/centre of Iraq, but in the autonomous region since the start of the Oil-for-Food Programme childhood mortality has begun to decline. Better food and resource allocation to the autonomous region contributed to the continued gains in lower mortality, whereas the situation in the south/centre deteriorated despite the high level of literacy in that region.