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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Counting the cost
This from the The Guardian
"The foreign secretary yesterday, speaking on the BBC Today programme, had some useful thoughts on a sensitive subject - the extent of civilian casualties in Iraq during and since the war. Jack Straw does not share the view, expressed famously by General Tommy Franks of US Central Command last year, that "we don't do body counts". Mr Straw's own estimate is in the region of 10,000 civilian deaths, as of about three months ago, and he readily acknowledged that "it is odd that coalition forces have not kept consistent records."

It is odd indeed. Neither the British nor US forces have any difficulty in announcing swiftly that they have killed a fairly exact number of "enemy" or "insurgents". British troops were said at the weekend to have killed 20 "militants" in a clash near Amarah. On Wednesday, the Americans said they had killed "20 to 25 fighters" in Kerbala. There is no reason why estimates of civilian deaths should be any more difficult to make.

Fortunately we are not entirely in the dark. Western media - and perhaps some governments too - have grown accustomed to rely on the Iraq Body Count (IBC) which tabulates civilian deaths in Iraq on its website IraqBodyCount.net. This operation, run by volunteers on a shoestring budget, only records incidents reported by two or more sources and its figures are likely to be conservative. (A similar operation run by US researchers at Lunaville.org provides information on coalition military fatalities in Iraq). The current IBC site, accurate to the end of March, shows a low estimate of around 9,000 and a high estimate of around 11,000 civilian deaths since the war began. This will probably be updated by up to another thousand deaths attributable mainly to the onslaughts on Falluja and Najaf".

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