Evidence is mounting to suggest that between 5,000 and 10,000
Iraqi civilians may have died during the recent war, according to
researchers involved in independent surveys of the country.
None of the local and foreign researchers were willing to speak
for the record, however, until their tallies are complete.
Such a range would make the Iraq war the deadliest campaign for
noncombatants that US forces have fought since Vietnam.
Though it is still too early for anything like a definitive
estimate, the surveyors warn, preliminary reports from hospitals,
morgues, mosques, and homes point to a level of civilian casualties
far exceeding the Gulf War, when 3,500 civilians are thought to have
"Thousands are dead, thousands are missing, thousands are
captured," says Haidar Taie, head of the tracing department for the
Iraqi Red Crescent in Baghdad. "It is a big disaster."
By one measure of violence against noncombatants, as compared
with resistance faced by soldiers, the war in Iraq was particularly
brutal. In Operation Just Cause, the 1989 US invasion of Panama, 13
Panamanian civilians died for every US military fatality. If 5,000
Iraqi civilians died in the latest war, that proportion would be 33
US and British military officials insisted throughout the war
that their forces did all they could to avoid civilian casualties.
But it has become clear since the fighting ended that bombs did go
astray, that targets were chosen in error, and that as US troops
pushed rapidly north toward the capital they killed thousands of
civilians from the air and from the ground.
There are no figures at all for Iraqi military casualties, which
Iraqi officials kept secret. One factor that led to many civilian
deaths, and which complicates the task of counting them accurately,
is that irregular fedayeen militia hid in civilian homes as they
fought advancing coalition troops, and dressed as civilians.
Nor are hospital records - kept in the heat of war under intense
pressure on doctors and staff - necessarily accurate, some observers
warn. That means they probably underestimate the real scale of
civilian deaths, although at the same time they may have recorded
some combatant casualties as civilian ones.
"We had some figures from hospital sources but we realized very
quickly that they were very partial," says Nada Doumani, an official
with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baghdad. "It is
very difficult to keep track of everyone who was killed, and we were
afraid the numbers could be misinterpreted, so we refrained from
giving them out."
"During the war, some people brought bodies to the hospitals to
get death certificates; others just buried them where they were
found in the street, or in schools," adds Faik Amin Bakr, director
of the Baghdad morgue. "I don't think anyone in Iraq could give you
the figure of civilian deaths at the moment."
The chaos of the war and the confusion that persists in Iraq,
where central government is still not functioning, have led one US
human rights group with experience in counting civilian casualties
in Afghanistan to launch a nationwide house-to-house survey of areas
where fighting was fierce.
The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) has
mobilized 150 surveyors to carry out detailed interviews with
victims of the war; recording deaths, injuries, and damage to
property with a view to securing assistance from US government
A full accounting could take months, says CIVIC coordinator Marla
Ruzicka, and the group is still compiling its data. But its
volunteers have already recorded more than 1,000 civilian deaths in
the southern town of Nasariyah, and almost as many in the capital.
"In Baghdad, we have discovered 1,000 graves, and that is not the
final figure," says Ali Ismail, a Red Crescent official. …