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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.

1. Introduction

Our primary role at Iraq Body Count (IBC) has always been to keep the civilian costs of the Iraq war firmly in the public eye. We have been able to maintain a consistent role in promoting public awareness through the adoption of a strict and openly-declared data-gathering methodology combined with innovative use of web technologies, particularly for the dissemination of our findings. This has involved the daily monitoring, sorting and compilation of media-reported civilian deaths in an expanding and open-ended public database, based solely on reliably recorded deaths (rather than on extrapolation or speculation), and the production of a “bottom-line” statistic giving a running total of the number of reported civilian deaths at every stage of the war and subsequent military occupation. The dissemination of this statistic has been greatly enhanced by the participation of thousands of independent websites, large and small, carrrying our real-time IBC Web Counters.

IBC’s work has also been a resource for the print and online media, with many individual articles citing IBC data (eg, Christian Science Monitor, 21st May 2003) and both the Guardian and Reuters making use of IBC figures to provide regular civilian casualty updates during various phases of the conflict.

We are encouraged that the aims and concerns underlying our work are receiving increasingly widespread acceptance, evidence of which comes from the growing number of projects that seek, in varying ways, to fulfil similar and/or complementary roles to ours.

A consequence of this positive development is that, increasingly, reporting about civilian casualties draws on a number of studies, and such reporting is often framed in the context of debates about what is the best, or most accurate, way to estimate the civilian cost of the war. These debates are vital and timely. This article is our own contribution to that debate. In it, we review, as comprehensively as possible, the attempts that have so far been made to estimate civilian deaths in a systematic way. We compare the strengths and weaknesses of these different attempts, and make some suggestions how the combined efforts of all those working in this area may be channelled and focused toward our shared aim of “establishing the truth of what happened,” an outcome which we believe will best serve the interests of the war’s victims, including the families and loved ones of those who were killed by it.