Vol. 5 Num 46 Mon. July 12, 2004  

'Iraq's daily death toll much higher than reported'

No one knows how many Iraqi civilians die every day in the attacks and military errors, which have scarred the country since the US-led invasion last year. Rough tolls have been compiled, but experts say the real figure is likely much higher.

"The only way to establish the full extent of casualties is an official commission on civilian deaths, with a clear, published method of working and external verification of the work by an appropriate body independent of the United States or Britain," said John Slobodan, one of the founders of the website

Based on international press reports, Iraqbodycount regularly updates its figures for the number of civilians killed since the war started on March 19, 2003.

Its death toll as of Sunday was between 11,164 and 13,118 people.

The fundamental instability of the country is one of the main reason why it is almost impossible to record every violent death.

Figures produced by the US-led military forces and the Iraqi authorities rarely match up and are often imprecise.

Last Tuesday, an Iraqi motorist, due to be married in two days, was shot dead by US troops as he overtook a military convoy on his way to the hotel where his wedding was to take place, police and relatives said.

His death was well documented by the many journalists who happened to be staying at the hotel, but what about the minor unrest that happens elsewhere?

"There are families who will bury directly their own dead, especially in hot weather," said Slobodan, adding: "Who will know about that?"

A university professor from Keele in Britain, Slobodan has studied the impact on civilians of Nato's military campaign in the former Yugoslavia and said that badly mangled bodies are rarely taken to hospitals and are therefore not included in hospital death tolls.

In Iraq, "from April 2003 to April 2004 there's no official figure" of the number of people who have died, he said.

But the ministry of health started to collect casualty data from hospitals across Iraq since April.

"We do have information on them (the civilians killed)," Health Minister Alaadin Alwan told AFP.

According to these statistics, some 400 Iraqis were killed and 1,600 injured in the escalating violence during June alone, in the build-up to the handover of power by the US-led coalition to an interim Iraqi government.

But independent experts argue that even these official numbers are too low.

"There is such a chaotic situation in the hospitals that you can never be sure," said Raed Jarrar, who heads the Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict in Iraq.

"For example during the clashes in Nassiriyah and Najaf some people were taken to small hospitals which do not document the deaths," he said.

"Neither the Iraqi government nor the American forces are interested in getting the exact figures. It's politically against their interests."

Based in the United States, his non-governmental organisation had begun a door-to-door investigation to count the number of civilians killed in Iraq but stopped in the hope that the task could be resumed on a larger scale.