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Immediately after the US/UK invasion, there was a brief opportunity for civil society to establich the human cost of the war. The initiatives which rose to that challenge, or attempted to, are reviewed here.

Their efforts, like IBC's up to that time, were to prove incomplete not only from lack of resources and reliable data, as the article discusses, but because only a single phase � the invasion leading to 'regime change' � of the war was over.

Counting the Human Cost

A survey of projects counting civilians killed by the war in Iraq

John Sloboda and Hamit Dardagan

June 12th 2003

Executive Summary

Overview and key conclusions

At the outset of the Iraq War, Iraq Body Count was providing the only systematic estimates of civilian casualties. Now, 15 different projects are at varying stages of completion. Press reports increasingly cite data from more than one project, and critical comparisons are becoming necessary.

This article critically reviews all projects that have made their existence known publicly, and summarises key project details in tabular form.

Taken together, the projects reinforce rather than contradict one another and provide converging evidence that current estimates putting the number of civilians killed at significantly above 5,000 are well-founded.

These projects have already informed immediate humanitarian efforts, and when complete, can feed into strategic considerations about the costs of modern warfare. Given the importance of estimating the civilian costs, it is surprising that no national or supra-national agency has yet contributed to this work.

Categorisation and comparison of individual projects

Projects differ on a number of dimensions. Two key dimensions are scope (comprehensive or limited) and sourcing (direct or indirect). Any given project must choose where to situate itself on such key dimensions, and accept the limitations that this imposes. Much published criticism of individual projects is misleading, because it makes the erroneous assumption that there is a single standard against which all projects can be judged. We argue that projects with differing aims and scope can complement and strengthen each other, provided they adhere to minimum standards of rigour and reporting clarity.

Four active projects, including IBC, are indirect projects that base their estimates entirely on published press and media reports. These projects differ primarily in their comprehensiveness and their handling of potential “double counting”.

Direct projects derive their data from on-the-ground investigations in Iraq. Four such projects, three of them based solely in the Baghdad area, have completed their work. The only one of these projects to have published a full and comprehensive report of its methodology and findings is a study by the Spanish Brigade Against the War, entitled “Evaluation of the attacks on the civilian population of Baghdad”.

The remaining projects reviewed are still in progress or have not reported any firm results as yet. Among these the direct project undertaken by the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) aims to be the most comprehensive, using 150 surveyors working in 11 major population centres around the country.