Iraq Body Count urgently needs your support to keep track of casualties - help us with a donation now

 

In a recent interview former UK Chief of Command General Sir Mike Jackson made the claim that the number of Iraqi civilians killed by UK forces cannot be determined. We refute this, and demonstrate that a useful figure can be arrived at.

IBC's response to General Sir Mike Jackson

Far from being unknowable, the number of civilians killed by UK forces recorded by IBC is about 300.

First published  18 Apr 2014 

In a recent lengthy discussion on Al-Jazeera, General Sir Mike Jackson was asked "Between 2003, when we went in, and 2011, when British troops pulled out, can you tell me how many Iraqi civilians were killed by British bombs or bullets?" His answer: "I don't think a number can possibly be established."

Sir Mike Jackson went on to say "I think it's impossible to distinguish who killed whom in a very messy and difficult situation. I don't know."

In saying this the former head of the British Army appears to be washing his hands the UK military's responsibility to even attempt to record those civilians killed in incidents involving UK forces. From the start of the Iraq invasion in 2003 IBC has gathered evidence from media, Iraqi officials and even from the military itself, which in many cases does provide evidence of who was responsible for specific civilian deaths. Ignoring what they know simply because they don't know every last incident is irrational.

This is not the first time military leaders, on both sides of the Atlantic have avoided answering straight questions regarding civilian casualties. Over ten years ago, in February 2004, IBC was confronting similar attitudes.

"Platitudes about the impossibility of obtaining an accurate count in all instances tend to be repeated whenever strong documentary evidence of specific cases is made available. Rather than engaging with the actual details on the table, the supposed impossibility of achieving a total count of all deaths is somehow presented as an excuse for not accounting for any deaths. The illogic of this argument is extreme. If applied to 9-11 it would have justified not attempting any count of the dead at ground zero – on the grounds that a totally accurate count could never be guaranteed." 1

And this means that military and political leaders have effectively been ignoring information which might have been used to help reduce civilian deaths by changing operational practices, known to be causing avoidable deaths.

IBC's answer to the number of Iraqi civilians killed by UK forces

In four southern provinces, including Basrah and Missan, UK forces assumed responsibility for security from the 5th of April 2003, with the first joint patrol with Iraqi police about a week later on the 13th. Up to the 10th April 2003 most deaths were caused by the bombing campaign, but without access to military records it would be impossible to determine precisely which were UK operations, and which were carried out by other forces. For this reason our analysis has had to estimate the number killed by the UK part in the air bombardment during the invasion.

After the 10th of April IBC has clear records of deaths caused directly and unambiguously by UK forces. These range from military vehicle accidents (e.g. d5455), to shooting incidents (e.g. k1177) to deaths in custody (e.g. x167). In all these cases there were lessons to be learned.

From 20 March 2003 until their withdrawal on 22 May 2011, IBC documented 148-227 civilian deaths in incidents known to have involved British troops. We estimate that a further 45-95 deaths, which are attributed to unspecified 'coalition forces' were in fact caused by UK forces (see calculation at the end of this page). It is not possible to be more precise without more detailed information, particularily about the so called "shock and awe" bombing campaign - information which is almost certainly held in military logs, and would be available to General Jackson.

Involving UK forces 193-322
Involving Coalition forces 12241-15128

What the Iraq War logs tell us the UK military should know about Iraqis killed by their troops

We know from the US military's Iraq War Logs, published by WikiLeaks, that in fact the British military must know about some Iraqi civilian deaths caused directly by British soldiers. Given the detail in some of the US logs, it beggars belief that senior British commanders don't have any idea of the scale of civilian deaths caused by UK forces from UK records.

So General Sir Mike Jackson's comment, "I don't think a number can possibly be established" is simply not good enough. In a democracy it is important that the public can see the consequences of their government's decisions, especially when those consequences are as tragic as the loss of innocent lives. To deny the possibility of knowing anything because it's not possible to know everything may be a convenient way to avoid this vital question, but is not morally tenable.




2 Al-Jazeera, Head to Head, 28 March 2014 Should the West end its wars? Transcript

Excerpt from Interview on Al-Jazeera

This is the relevant part of the conversation between General Sir Mike Jackson and Mehdi Hasan. This excerpt starts at 5:52. 2

Mehdi Hasan: Between 2003, when we went in, and 2011, when British troops pulled out, can you tell me how many Iraqi civilians were killed by British bombs or bullets?

Mike Jackson: I don't think a number can possibly be established.

Mehdi Hasan: Can you give me an estimate?

Mike Jackson: No.

Mehdi Hasan: Why not?

Mike Jackson: Because I don't know.

Mehdi Hasan: Shouldn't you know?

Mike Jackson: I think it's impossible to distinguish who killed whom in a very messy and difficult situation. I don't know.

Mike Jackson: How can I possibly judge overall whether a person in Iraq, an Iraqi was killed because he was or she had taken up arms against the occupying forces. Whether it was sectarian. Whether it was by accident, and they happen. It is impossible for me to categorise casualties in that way or I would put to you, anybody else.

Details of IBC's estimate

Deaths documented as involving UK in Basrah and Missan 137-165
Deaths documented as involving UK in rest of Iraq 11-62
Total deaths documented as involving UK in Iraq 148-227
Deaths documented as involving 'Coalition forces', in Basrah and Missan, from 11 April 2003 33-39
UK forces likely involved in most incidents, but can't be proved, so only add to Maximum Add
0-39
Deaths documented as involving unspecified 'Coalition forces', air attacks, up to 10 April 2003 523-638
8.4% of bombs dropped were dropped by UK forces during invasion 3 Add estimate of
43-53
Deaths documented as involving unspecified 'Coalition forces', excluding air attacks, outside Basrah/Missan 1503 - 1698
Deaths documented as involving UK forces, non air attacks, excluding Basrah/Missan 9 - 12
Deaths documented as involving other Coalition forces, excluding air attacks, outside Basrah/Missan 5814 - 7156
Estimated additional UK caused deaths, excluding air attacks, outside Basrah/Missan Add
2-3
Estimated total deaths caused by, or involving UK forces 193-322