by Simon Jeffery / The Guardian –
(June 13th, 2003) — At least 5,000 civilians may have been killed during the invasion of Iraq, an independent research group has claimed. As more evidence is collated, it says, the figure could reach 10,000.
Iraq Body Count (IBC), a volunteer group of British and US academics and researchers, compiled statistics on civilian casualties from media reports and estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 civilians died in the conflict. Its latest report compares those figures with 14 other counts, most of them taken in Iraq, which, it says, bear out its findings.
Researchers from several groups have visited hospitals and mortuaries in Iraq and interviewed relatives of the dead; some are conducting surveys in the main cities. Three completed studies suggest that between 1,700 and 2,356 civilians died in the battle for Baghdad alone.
John Sloboda, professor of psychology at Keele University and an IBC report author, said the studies in Iraq backed up his group’s figures. “One of the things we have been criticised for is quoting journalists who are quoting other people. But what we are now finding is that whenever the teams go into Iraq and do a detailed check of the data we had through the press, not only is our data accurate but [it is] often on the low side.
“The totality is now producing an unassailable sense that there were a hell of a lot of civilian deaths in Iraq.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said he had not seen anything to substantiate the report’s figures. “During the conflict we took great pains to minimise casualties among civilians. We targeted [the] military. So it is very difficult for us to give any guidance or credence to a set of figures that suggest there was x number of civilian casualties.”
IBC’s total includes a figure of at least 3,240 civilian deaths published this week by the Associated Press news agency, which was based on a survey of 60 Iraqi hospitals from March 20 to April 20, when the fighting was declining. But many other bodies were either buried quickly in line with Islamic custom or lost under rubble.
Prof Sloboda said there was nothing in principle to stop a total count being made using forensic science methods similar to those used to calculate the death toll from the September 11 attack: it was a question of political will and resources.
He said even an incomplete record of civilian deaths was worth compiling, to assist in paying reparations and in assessing the claim before the war that there would be few civilian casualties.
Lieutenant Colonel James Cassella, a US defence department spokesman, said the Pentagon had not counted civilian deaths because its efforts had been focused on defeating enemy forces rather than aiming at civilians. He said that under international law the US was not liable to pay compensation for “injuries or damage occurring during lawful combat operations”.
The Iraqi authorities estimated that 2,278 civilians died in the 1991 Gulf war.