Deaths Rise But
No Count On Bodies
By Fiona O'Brien
U.S. military knows 537 of its soldiers have been killed in the war
in Iraq, can cite names, how and when they died. But when it comes to
dead Iraqi civilians, it will not even talk hundreds or thousands.
estimate as many as 10,000 civilians may have died as a direct result
of the U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq, either during the war
or in attacks aimed at uprooting the occupation.
in Iraq say they keep no official tally.
"We don't track,
we don't have the capacity to track all civilian casualties," Brigadier
General Mark Kimmitt said. He said some numbers were available, but
too unreliable to use.
It is indeed impossible
to count every death. The lines between civilians and combatants are
sometimes blurred, bodies buried before they can be counted. But analysts
say it is also in Washington's interests to keep the toll quiet.
"In the final
analysis, what determines what this administration does is how the American
public responds to it," said Carl Conetta of the Project for Defence
Alternatives, who is preparing a report on how Washington manages news
not get support if you said we are going to go in and 15,000 people
are going to die...Americans need to believe this is doable. They don't
want to hear that this will start a cycle of violence. They don't want
to hear it practically and they don't want to hear it morally."
Rights groups say
it is important to have at least an estimate of civilian deaths. Individual
incidents -- 53 dead in Iskandariya on Tuesday, 47 in Baghdad on Wednesday
-- belie the scale of the war and can be quickly forgotten, they say.
The Iraq Body Count
group, which bases its assessment on media reports, says up to 10,089
Iraqi civilians have died because of the war. The group's co-founder
John Sloboda admits the count is flawed, but says even an estimate can
leaders say it was worth it to go to war," he said. "But if
you don't know the cost, how can you say it was worth it? Stories of
women and children -- this is what turns ordinary citizens in the West
Analysts say turning
ordinary citizens against the war it launched is precisely what Washington
does not want to do, especially with a presidential election coming
up in November.
On the ground in
Iraq, civilian deaths do have repercussions, fuelling the insurgency
as frustration at the occupation mounts. But keeping numbers hazy for
the audience at home and beyond is an exercise in damage limitation.
"You need to
maintain the legitimacy of the operation, the legitimacy of U.S. power,"
Conetta said. "Maintain the illusion that we can fight wars like
this without causing a lot of problems, that there won't be a backlash."
When it comes to
civilians killed in major bomb attacks, which back up the idea that
Iraq is the new front line in Washington's "war on terror",
the U.S. is relatively open.
But it is rare to
get information about smaller attacks or about those civilians killed
in error by U.S. soldiers.
Kimmitt and other
U.S. officials say it is impossible to tally these deaths. Muslims bury
their dead quickly, they say, troops cannot be everywhere. Rights groups
say not publishing numbers adds to the false perspective outsiders have
of the war.
"At the moment
it seems like there are only attacks against Americans and only Americans
are dying, or Iraqis who die during very severe terrorist attacks,"
said Paola Gasparoli from Occupation Watch, which monitors the conduct
of troops in Iraq.
"There is no
idea that there are also innocent civilians killed because of the occupation.
To admit that would be to admit the war isn't really finished."