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Iraq: British Military Statistics Shed Light On War Deaths

The international debate on how many people have been killed in Iraq during and since the war continues. The United States has never released official figures -- and until recently the U.K. government has remained tight-lipped. However, in a recent written parliamentary answer, British Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram listed the numbers of both combat and noncombat deaths since the official end of the war in 2003. That could help in estimating the total number of military and civilian deaths in Iraq.

London, 13 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ingram stresses that calculating the casualties, both among insurgents and civilians since the end of the war, has been very difficult.

“It’s an extremely difficult thing to quantify," said Amyas Godfrey, head of the Armed Forces Program at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute. "It’s not like battlefields of 200 years ago, where the winner took the battlefield and was able to observe all the dead lying in an area like that. It’s when you have everything involved from bombing from the air to counterinsurgency you’re not going to have that habeas corpus [in this sense, "bodily proof"]. You’re not going to be able to count every body. So it is very difficult. It’s interesting that the U.K. has decided to address that.”

Made available to RFE/RL by the U.K’s ministry of defense, Ingram’s statement claims that 200 Iraqis “believed to have been enemy combatants” died and 80 were injured.

The figures cover the period from the official end of the war on 1 May 2003 until the end of November 2004. They apply to the parts of Iraq where British forces operate.

In the statement, the recorded deaths involved incidents that resulted from U.K. military force. In such incidents, five civilians died and 13 were injured.

Ingram also said a further 17 insurgents and 144 civilians died and 22 insurgents and 192 civilians were injured in the course of “other incidents.” Ingram stressed that these figures do not include Iraqi security forces.
"It’s not like battlefields of 200 years ago, where the winner took the battlefield and was able to observe all the dead lying in an area like that."

Some observers regard the announced figures as helpful but too low.

“To me those figures sound quite low, given that the Brits were involved in military action over the summer,” said Adrian Blomfield, the Baghdad correspondent for “The Daily Telegraph” newspaper.

Blomfield added that during the uprising led by Muqtada al-Sadr in Al-Najaf last summer, the British military was also fighting militants in places like Al-Amarah and Al-Basrah. He said that, in those regions alone, casualties were quite high.

“I remember figures coming out at that time that would have included possibly up to 100 deaths in that period,” Blomfield said.

Minister Ingram stressed, however, that the figures he quoted only apply to casualties “witnessed or discovered” by U.K. forces between May 2003 and November 2004.

He added that, following hostile contacts, U.K. forces were “not always able to make an accurate count.”

Amyas Godfrey was in Iraq in 2004. He said that, on the basis of his experience there, he agrees with the minister’s figures.

“First the number struck me as low, but thinking about it, it probably is actually quite accurate," Godfrey said. "I would probably say it from my own experience of the seven months I was there last year, which were the busiest in insurgency. Those numbers tend to tally up in my mind.”

Godfrey said that the British Army is usually quite accurate about such things, and the figures could help in producing estimates of the total number of casualties in Iraq. He said that he does not understand why the United States has not released casualty figures.

“Why the Americans haven’t approached it could be -- one -- that they just don’t want to talk about it. Two -- it could be because they just don’t know [and] it’s not something that they actually look into. And three -- it could be they have a different way of accounting," Godfrey said. "I know that the British Army accounts for every round that it fires. And every soldier has to say where each one of those rounds went and account for them, whereas the American Army don’t have to do that. So, there’s a huge difference in the ethos in that way, as well.”

More than 1,500 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since hostilities began.

Estimates of the total number of civilian casualties in Iraq during the war have differed widely.

Godfrey’s Royal United Services Institute came up with its own research figures recently. It put the number of civilian deaths during the air-bombing campaign at “an absolute maximum of 13,000, and probably much less.” According to the institute, casualties from the postwar insurgency period stand at “a less reliable figure of just over 8,000 civilian deaths.”

Godfrey stressed, however, that many other assessments of civilian casualties are based on figures issued by Iraq’s Health Ministry. He said these figures should be treated with caution.

“The new Iraqi government would say any civilian casualties should be checked through the [Health Ministry]," Godfrey said. "But you and I clearly know that this department of health is only just putting itself together now. And there is no way of checking on records. There are no existing records, particularly of the number of civilians in areas. So we can’t rely upon those numbers on their own.”

Adrian Blomfield concluded that the British figures are “useful,” even if they underestimate the real extent of casualties. He added, however, that even the most recent and supposedly more accurate figures cannot be fully trusted.

An independent project Iraq Body Count ( estimates that more than 17,000 civilians have been killed by military intervention in Iraq. Blomfield estimated that Iraqi Body Count assessments are “probably 60 percent accurate,” and the Iraqi Health Ministry’s statistics “70 percent accurate.”

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