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Iraq: Survey Shows Nearly 25,000 Civilians Killed In Two Years

Women and children represent nearly one in five of the roughly 13,000 civilians whose name and gender were available An independent British survey released yesterday says nearly 25,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq since U.S.-led coalition forces invaded the country in March 2003. The report blames foreign fighters for over one-third of these deaths. But it also shows that the number of civilians killed by anticoalition insurgents, indiscriminate car bombings, and criminals has been steadily growing.

Prague, 20 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The findings were compiled by a London-based research project fund known as Iraq Body Count (IBC) in association with the Oxford Research Group.

They show a total of 24,865 civilians have been reported killed in the two years between the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on 20 March 2003 and 19 March 2005.

Another 42,500 civilians were reported wounded during that period.

On average, that means that 34 Iraqi civilians have been killed every day and another 58 injured since the beginning of the war. It also means that one in every 1,000 Iraqis has met a violent death in the past two years.

Contrary to other recent studies that indicate a much higher tally, the IBC survey includes neither military casualties nor deaths caused by diseases, infections, or accidents.

IBC co-founder Hamit Dardagan tells RFE/RL about the methodology used to compile the present report, which he co-authored.

"It's based on our analysis, which we've been doing continuously since that period, of more than 10,000 news reports. This particular report that we've done now is a more in-depth analysis. Before [that] we [had] provided details on how many people were killed. Now, we've looked in greater detail at who those people were, who killed them, how many were wounded as well -- which is a new thing for us -- and we've also analyzed some of the sources that have been providing this information, including both the media and primary sources in Iraq such as medics, morgues, officials and so on," Dardagan says.
"One of the things we've been constantly being told is that 'our governments, our militaries in particular take every care to avoid civilian casualties.' Whether that's true or not, there is something strange about saying that, and at the same time being completely uninterested in and making no effort to find out how they're really performing in that regard."

The 26-page report gives an unprecedented -- though understandably incomplete -- breakdown on the age, gender, and occupation of all civilians whose deaths have been registered since the start of the war.

The age and gender of roughly half of the civilians killed since March 2003 was available. Among them, women and children account for 18 percent. Nearly one in 200 was a baby.

With nearly 11,300 and 1,900 civilian deaths respectively, Baghdad and Al-Fallujah -- the hotbed of the Iraqi insurgency -- suffered the greatest losses of civilian lives.

Al-Fallujah residents paid a particularly heavy price during two U.S. assaults on their city in April and November 2004.

The survey shows U.S.-led forces were solely responsible for more than one-third of civilian casualties. But 74 percent of those deaths came during the war's initial combat phase, which ended on 1 May 2003. American troops reportedly accounted for the overwhelming majority of coalition-caused deaths.

The U.S. administration has not reacted yet to the publication of the report. Britain, whose troops IBC says account for 86 civilian fatalities so far, has declined to comment, saying only the death of noncombatants is a "terrible thing."

Both the U.S. and British governments have cited the difficulty of collecting reliable data on noncombatant casualties to justify the nonexistence of any public record of civilian deaths. But Dardagan says it is possible to do at least an approximate body count.

"They say it's impossible to get an accurate and perfect count. It may well be impossible to get a perfect count. But we've shown that you can already find out a lot of information if you are willing to look. One of the things we've been constantly being told is that 'our governments, our militaries in particular take every care to avoid civilian casualties.' Whether that's true or not, there is something strange about saying that, and at the same time being completely uninterested in and making no effort to find out how they're really performing in that regard," Dardagan says. "I mean, are they really managing to minimize civilian casualties caught in one incident compared to a similar incident? I'm sure they have all their military data about these incidents, but they're not looking at the consequences, unintended though they may be, for civilians."

In contrast to the U.S. and British governments, the Iraqi authorities that succeeded Saddam Hussein in Baghdad have been keeping close track of civilian casualties since the spring of 2004. But Dardagan says the Iraqi Health Ministry has stopped releasing information in a bid to avoid embarrassment over the responsibility of coalition forces in civilian deaths.

"The whole issue of Iraqi civilian deaths and injuries is an embarrassment to the governments who wanted to make Iraq a better place to live in, [who] have told us all along that the idea was to liberate Iraq and make it a safer country. [But] for civilians in Iraq, it doesn't seem to be [the case] right now," Dardagan says.

IBC says another third of civilian deaths is blamed on the crime situation that has been steadily deteriorating since the demise of Saddam's regime.

"Criminals, what you might call ordinary crime, [have] killed 36 percent of that number of nearly 25,000. You have to bear in mind, though, that [this is] not the normal level of criminal murders that happen in Iraq. The numbers that we include are only criminal murders above the number that normally happens in Iraq. We've been able to compare the figures for 2002 with the two years after and we've recorded the additional criminal deaths that has resulted [from] the breakdown of the law and order in Iraq following the invasion," Dardagan says.

The Iraqi authorities yesterday criticized IBC for allegedly minimizing the responsibility of what it called "terrorists" in the deaths of civilians.

A government statement said, "The international forces try to avoid civilian casualties, while the terrorists target civilians and try to kill as many of them as they can."

The IBC report says insurgent attacks are solely responsible for only 9 percent of civilian victims, mainly law enforcement officers recruited by the U.S.-backed Iraqi government. The findings indicate police account for the largest single occupational category among killed civilians, with nearly 980 reported deaths over the past two years.

Those numbers, however, do not include deaths caused by indiscriminate suicide bombings aimed at possibly spreading fear among citizens. IBC says those attacks, attributed to what it describes as "unknown agents," account for another 11 percent of civilians casualties.

(Report available on the Internet at

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