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Conservative Survey Finds, Analyzes 25,000 Civilian Deaths in Iraq*

by Jessica Azulay

An analysis of figures accumulated from news reports since the beginning of the US-led invasion of Iraq shows the who, what, where and how of civilian deaths in the conflict, underscoring the why.

*A correction was appended to this news report after initial publication.

July 20, 2005 – An analysis of reported civilian deaths in Iraq during the US-led invasion and occupation found that violence has killed at least one out of every 400 people in Baghdad and one out of 137 in the embattled city of Fallujah. The report, released yesterday, also found that US-led forces were solely responsible for more than a third of reported civilian deaths between March 2003 and March 2005, and that so-called American "precision weaponry" is less discriminate than standard firearms or even improvised explosive devices used by resistance fighters.

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Iraq Body Count (IBC), a group that tallies Iraqi civilian deaths reported by the English-language media, published the analysis in conjunction with Oxford Research Group, a UK-based public interest investigative organization. IBC follows strict accounting methods, requiring that deaths be reported by at least two reputable media outlets before it will be included in the organization’s database. By the authors’ own admission, the report’s count of 24,865 civilian dead in the first two years is conservative.

Though the US military systematically reports the deaths of US combatants in Iraq, it has never attempted to quantify the number of civilians killed by American soldiers.

"It remains a matter of the gravest concern that, nearly two and a half years on, neither the US nor the UK governments have begun to systematically measure the impact of their actions in terms of human lives destroyed," said Professor John Sloboda, one of the report’s authors, at a press conference announcing the release of the data.

In the report’s introduction, the authors, who aside from Sloboda, include Hamit Dardagan, Kay Williams and Peter Bagnall, describe their intentions to document the mounting civilian death toll in Iraq. "Assurances that military forces ‘make every effort to avoid civilian casualties’ are no substitute for real data-gathering and analysis, and can have basis without it."

The group’s analysis found that adult males have born the brunt of violence in Iraq since the start of the US-led invasion, representing 82 percent of those whose age and sex were noted in media reports compiled by IBC. Adult females and children each accounted for about 9 percent.

While excluding Iraqi counter-insurgency special forces, Iraqi National Guards or recruits of the New Iraqi Army, the count does include ordinary police and police recruits and several other groups of nonmilitary security forces, which accounted for about 1,182 of the deaths tallied.

The group found that most killings occurred in Iraq’s population centers, with almost half in the country’s capital city. IBC documented 11,264 civilian deaths in Baghdad alone. The next most blood-bathed city was Fallujah with 1,874 deaths.

The data suggests, however, that the most dangerous place in Iraq during the two years covered by the report may have been the small city of Tikrit. With a population of just 28,000 and a reported civilian death toll of 312, one out of every 90 residents there was a reported civilian casualty.

Iraq Body Count also documented who was responsible for each death, whenever the perpetrator was reported. According to the analysis by the group, the US-led invasion and occupation forces directly killed about 37 percent of the civilians in the group’s database, or 9,270 people. Of those, US forces were responsible for 98.5 percent.

"Anti-occupation forces," which researchers define as armed groups "attacking military and other occupation-related targets" directly killed 9.5 percent of civilians reported dead. Incidents in which both US-led forces and anti-occupation forces were involved took the lives of 2.5 percent of the victims documented.

"Unknown agents," described to include attackers "which apparently targeted only civilians and lacked any identifiable military objective" were responsible for 11 percent of reported deaths.

IBC also documented murders perpetrated by criminals in post-invasion Iraq, where crime has skyrocketed since the overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein, causing 36 percent of civilian deaths.

According to IBC, the type of weapon used was reported in 93 percent of cases in the database. The group said that more than half of civilian lives were ended by explosive devices, including conventional and improvised bombs, missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, and artillery. Most of the rest involved small arms fire, which accounted for only 8 percent of civilian deaths in conflict, but nearly all of deaths in crime.

The US military responded to the report by reiterating that its soldiers try to prevent civilian deaths. "We do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties in all of our operations," military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan, told Reuters. "Since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom until now, we have categorically not targeted civilians. We take great care in all operations to ensure we go after the intended targets."

IBC used the data compiled of types of weapons involved in civilian deaths to assess weapon precision. "If it is assumed that adults, not children, are the intended targets in war, the proportion of children to adults killed by different types of weaponry can be used as a measure of the indiscriminateness," wrote the authors of the report.

By calculating this ratio for various weapons, the group found that explosive devices, especially ones in which aircraft are involved, killed a significantly higher portion of children.

"It appears that whatever their military advantages and benefit to soldiers, ‘stand off’ weapons,’ which put a substantial distance between soldiers and their intended targets are the most likely to cause unintended harm to bystanders," wrote the authors. "Lowest in ‘child lethality’ were hand-held firearms, which suggests that clearly-identifiable civilians are more likely to be spared when combatants are able to personally control and direct their fire."

CORRECTION

Minor Change:

This report originally contained a regretable misspelling of Peter Bengall's name. It also mis-stated the number of Iraqi dead counted as 24,867 -- the correct number reported by Iraq Body Count is 24,865.

 | Change Posted July 28, 2005 at 04:16 AM EST

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Jessica Azulay is a staff journalist.

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