- One year and 16 days after President George Bush declared
the end to major hostilities in Iraq, the toll of American and British
casualties continues to rise. Since the start of the invasion, 566 members
of the American military and 211 US civilians have died. The British figures
are 59 and 8.
- But at the same time thousands of others men, women,
the elderly and the very young have been killed or maimed with far less
fanfare. No one knows how many. They are Iraqi civilians, and the Americans
and the British do not bother to keep count of the people they have "liberated"
and then killed.
- This is not usual in modern warfare. In most past conflicts,
attempts were made to keep a tally of civilian losses. Legal experts say
that, particularly in the case of Iraq, it is the duty of occupying powers
to do so under the Geneva Conventions.
- The Pentagon says it is not helpful to keep a "body
count". Yet, there is no hesitation in giving numbers of Iraqi fighters,
described as "Saddam loyalists" and "al-Qa'ida elements"
who have supposedly been eliminated by the Allies.
- Unofficial estimates of civilian casualties are available.
The pressure group Iraq Body Count presents a daily update. It puts the
maximum number of killed Iraqi civilians at 11,005, and the minimum at
9,148. But this does not include about 800 reportedly killed recently in
Fallujah and 235 in Baghdad, or about 20 reported to have died in the British-controlled
- As the death toll continued to mount yesterday, Geoff
Hoon, the Defence Secretary, ruled out allowing MPs to vote on sending
more troops amid reports that the British deployment could double to 15,000.
He and other Cabinet ministers played down mounting speculation Tony Blair
would step down as Prime Minister. Meanwhile Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence
Secretary, was forced back on the defensive by reports he had authorised
the use of extreme interrogation techniques on Iraqi prisoners.
- Iraq Body Count accepts its figures are inexact. "We
only include deaths which have been reported by multiple media sources,
and we are also careful in trying to avoid duplication," said Hamit
Dardagan, a co-founder of the organisation. "The numbers are likely
to be higher, but we do not want to speculate as to how many. But this
really should be done by the coalition powers. They owe a responsibility
to the people of Iraq."
- Amnesty International, which published a report last
week detailing the British Army's alleged involvement in the deaths of
37 civilians in disputed circumstances, says it is "astonishing"
that the US and Britain are not keeping track of civilian casualties. "Unless
this takes place it is very difficult to find out what is going on. We
do not believe that it is not possible."
- A spokesman for the US-based Human Rights Watch said:
"What is essential is to find out why any civilian death or injury
is happening. An investigation is needed into the tactics and weapons causing
- Sir Menzies Campbell, the deputy leader of the Liberal
Democrats and the party's spokesman on foreign affairs, said: "The
failure to keep account of civilian casualties is monstrous. It gives the
impression that the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens are worth less than
those of soldiers.
- "It cannot be beyond the wit of the Coalition Provisional
Authority to find a way to register Iraqi numbers. Not to do so appears
contrary to the spirit of Geneva Convention."
- Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South, said: "Our
refusal to count the deaths of Iraqi civilians fuels the belief in the
Arab world that the peace is just a hidden war. In not counting Iraqi deaths,
their lives appear to count for nothing. In such circumstances you can't
blame Iraqis for believing that in our eyes they are still the enemy."
- © 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=522048