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Iraq Civilians: 50,000 Dead-
But Who's Counting?

By Juliana Lara Resende

11 July, 2006
Inter-Press Service

UNITED NATIONS - After famously telling reporters that they "don't do body counts," Pentagon officials now say that they have in fact been keeping a record of civilian casualties in Iraq for one year. And while that number remains classified, independent estimates suggest that at least 50,000 people have died in the country since the 2003 invasion.

According to statistics compiled by the Baghdad morgue, the Iraqi Health Ministry and other agencies, as reported recently in the Los Angeles Times, that total is 20,000 higher then the George W. Bush administration had previously estimated.

Last year, Bush asserted that, "30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis."

In terms of population size, this would be equivalent to 570,000 U.S. citizens killed in the same period of time, noted the Jun. 25 LA Times article.

However, the Iraqi Health Ministry says this figure is artificially low since it does not include deaths that occurred outside Baghdad in the first year of the occupation, or those in the three northern provinces of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan..

And due to the ongoing daily violence and security crackdowns, as well as power shortages and failing communications networks, health workers have been unable to compile accurate data concerning how many people die in the country.

According to the London-based Iraq Body Count (IBC), a non-governmental group that keeps a database on media-reported deaths in Iraq since May 2003, last year's toll was the highest in the three years of the occupation: 36 "violent deaths" on average per day -- approximately twice the toll of the first year.

Early last week, U.S. officials in Iraq said they have been counting civilian casualties since July 2005.

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, head of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad that U.S. soldiers are killing and injuring fewer civilians. According to him, non-combatant deaths at checkpoints have been reduced from about four to one per week in the last six months.

But John Sloboda from IBC notes that "checkpoint killings are only one category of death caused by the U.S. military".

"We have no proper evidence as to how meticulously the U.S. has been counting all categories of death caused by its own military," he told IPS.

Following Chiarelli's announcement, the Washington-based Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) and other humanitarian organisations called on the U.S. military to release its data and back up the information with further details.

"The U.S. military says they do protect civilians and we do believe them, but we can't know how true that is without the data," CIVIC's executive director, Sarah Holewinski, told IPS.

Sloboda added, "Indeed, there are on-record statements from military commanders saying that no way does the U.S. count casualties caused in engagements with hostile forces."

"When it is in a situation where its own troops are under fire, each member of the military is asked to guess how many enemy he may have killed. These reports are fed back upwards and combined somehow -- but obviously this can be no more than a guess and extremely subject to bias and political manipulation by the U.S," he said.

Death certificates are issued and counted separately by the morgue and the Health Ministry, so the two data sets do not overlap.

From 2003 through mid-2006, the Baghdad morgue received 30,204 bodies, according to the LA Times. The Health Ministry documented 18,933 deaths from "military clashes" and "terrorist attacks" between Apr. 5, 2004 and the Jun. 1, 2006. Together, this amounts to 49,137 deaths.

Regarding the U.S. refusal to disclose an official number, Holewinski said, "The media is doing a very good job on pushing the military to release it." However, she added that this will not happen "unless the Congress requires [the Pentagon] to".

IBC estimates that between 38,786 and 43,215 civilians have died as a consequence of the military invasion of Iraq since the war began, excluding deaths among the Iraqi security forces.

"It's a baseline. It's a really good measure, but it's not the whole story, so we need the U.S. to release their data," Holewinski told IPS.

"If the U.S. (military) really wants to put information into the public domain, then it should provide the date and place of each incident, the name of all victims and perpetrators," stressed Sloboda. "What they are currently doing is self-serving tokenism and an insult to their victims."

"It's an utter obscenity, and the whole international community stands judged for its abject failure in this respect," he concluded.

Copyright © 2006 IPS Inter-Press Service









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