" Universal Community of Friends - Civilian deaths in Iraq war are undermining efforts to win over people

More Iraqis killed by U.S. than by "terrorists"

Civilian Deaths are Undermining Efforts to Win Over People

September 25, 2004

BY NANCY A. YOUSSEF
FREE PRESS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis -- most of them civilians -- as attacks by insurgents are, according to statistics compiled by the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

According to the ministry, which provided the Free Press with the figures Friday, the interim Iraqi government recorded 3,487 Iraqi deaths in 15 of the country's 18 provinces from April 5 -- when the ministry began compiling the data -- until Sept. 19. Of those, 328 were women and children. Another 13,720 Iraqis were injured, the ministry said

While most of the dead are believed to be civilians, the data include an unknown number of police and Iraqi national guardsmen. Many Iraqi deaths, especially of insurgents, are never reported, so the actual number of Iraqis killed in fighting could be higher.

During the same period, 432 U.S. soldiers were killed.

Iraqi officials said the statistics proved that U.S. air strikes targeting insurgents also were killing large numbers of civilians. Some of the officials say these casualties are undermining popular acceptance of the U.S.-backed interim government.

The U.S. command is planning more aggressive military operations to clear the way for nationwide elections scheduled for January, the Bush administration has said.

Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman, said the insurgents were living in residential areas, sometimes in homes filled with munitions.

"As long as they continue to do that, they are putting the residents at risk," Boylan said. "We will go after them."

Boylan said the military conducted intelligence at a home to determine whether it housed insurgents before striking it. While damage would happen, the air strikes were "extremely precise," he said. And he said that any attacks conducted by the multinational forces were done "in coordination with the interim government."

The Health Ministry statistics indicate that more children have been killed around Ramadi and Fallujah than in Baghdad. U.S. air strikes and ground combat have been heavy in both places, particularly in April and May.

According to the statistics, 59 children were killed in Anbar province, a hotbed of the Sunni Muslim insurgency that includes the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, compared with 56 children in Baghdad. The ministry defines children as anyone younger than 12.

"When there are military clashes, we see innocent people die," said Dr. Walid Hamed, a member of the operations section of the Health Ministry, which compiles the statistics.

Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan who specializes in Iraq and Shi'ite Islam, said the widespread casualties meant that coalition forces already had lost the political campaign: "They lost the hearts and minds a long time ago.

"And they are trying to keep U.S. military casualties to a minimum in the run-up to the U.S. elections" by using air strikes instead of ground forces, he said.

U.S. military officials say they're targeting terrorists and are aggressively working to spare innocent people nearby.

Nearly a third of the Iraqi dead -- 1,122 -- were killed in August, according to the statistics. May was the second deadliest month, with 749 Iraqis killed, and 319 were killed in June, the least violent month. Most of those killed lived in Baghdad. The ministry found that 1,068 had died in the capital.

Many Iraqis say they think the numbers show that the multinational forces disregard their lives.

At his fruit stand in southern Baghdad, Raid Ibraham, 24, theorized: "The Americans keep attacking the cities not to keep the security situation stable, but so they can stay in Iraq and control the oil."

Others blame the multinational forces for allowing security to disintegrate, inviting terrorists from everywhere and threatening the lives of everyday Iraqis.

"Anyone who hates America has come here to fight: Saddam's supporters, people who don't have jobs, other Arab fighters. All these people are on our streets," said Hamed, the ministry official. "But everyone is afraid of the Americans, not the fighters. And they should be." Saddam is former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi officials said about two-thirds of the Iraqi deaths were caused by multinational forces and police; the remaining third died from insurgent attacks.

From that date until Sept. 10, 1,295 Iraqis were killed in clashes with multinational forces and police versus 516 killed in terrorist operations, the ministry said. The ministry defines terrorist operations as incidents in which someone is killed by an explosive device in a residential area, killed by a car bomb or assassinated.

The Health Ministry is the only organization that attempts to track deaths through government agencies. The U.S. military said it kept estimates, but refused to release them.

Contact NANCY A. YOUSSEF at youssef@freepress.com.

 


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