BAGHDAD, Aug. 13 Kyodo


By Tsukasa Arita

Estimating civilian casualties in a war is often said to be difficult, but a credible nongovernmental tally shows at least 6,000 died in the U.S.-led war on Iraq, more than double the toll from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The total is expected to rise further as attacks on American soldiers and their counterattacks against insurgents continue amid growing frustration with the U.S. occupation among Iraqi people.

"I have just one thing to say. Take care of the Iraqi people," Haider Ghafil, 24, said as his application forms for compensation for the deaths of his three younger brothers in a March 28 bombing were torn up by a U.S. soldier.

Tears filled his eyes as Ghafil began to relate how his 20-year-old, 18-year-old and 12-year-old brothers died when a missile hit the bustling al-Nasser market in the Shula district in northeastern Baghdad.

The huge crater made by the strike has been filled and the market reopened, but the sorrow of Ghafil and other bereaved families remains four months on.

With his compensation request refused by the U.S. occupation administration, Ghafil now lives on his small daily earnings from selling soft drinks, he said at his home, whose windows have no glass.

Iraqi officials say the market blasts were the result of a bombing error by the U.S. Army and that at least 58 civilians died, but Central Command at the time only said it was looking into reports of the attack.

The U.S. military makes an announcement each time its soldiers die, but has not counted casualties on the Iraqi side, let alone civilian deaths.

A total of 105 U.S. solders had died in the war by May 1, when President George W. Bush declared the end of major operations, whereas 2,320 Iraqi soldiers were assumed killed around Baghdad alone, according to the army's estimate reported by Reuters. The war was launched March 20.

Among news organizations, the Associated Press has conducted its own survey of 60 large hospitals through Iraq and estimated civilian deaths at 3,240. But it added, "The complete number -- if it is ever tallied -- is sure to be significantly higher" as many bodies are believed buried out of hospitals' reach.

News reports instead often cite the online database of a group called Iraq Body Count, which, run by 16 researchers mostly based in the U.S. and Britain, has tallied media-reported civilian deaths directly resulting from U.S.-led military actions in Iraq.

Its latest toll, updated daily following its launch in January, shows a minimum of 6,087 and a maximum of 7,798 deaths from bombings, missile strikes, firefights and other incidents reported in at least two of dozens of mainstream news outlets the group has screened.

It also says at least 20,000 civilians have been injured.

Iraq's Ministry of Health, meanwhile, is trying to set up its own extensive tally by ordering 143 hospitals nationwide in mid-July to submit records of civilian casualties from the war during the full month from March 20.

The ministry has compiled a report counting some 3,000 civilian deaths as of April 6, days after the collapse of the regime of ousted President Saddam Hussein, based on a telephone survey of hospitals, but the data are believed insufficient.

"It was (during) the war, and we had a lot of difficulties to communicate. I believe the total number is much higher than these figures," said Nagham Muhsen Hussein al-Khafaji, head of the ministry's health and vital statistics department.

Muhsen said he expects the latest survey will produce the nation's first overall tally on civilian casualties.

Yet continuing combat, blasts from remaining cluster bombs and other incidents are expected to keep fatalities on the rise.

Hamit Dardagan, London-based principal researcher of Iraq Body Count, said he anticipates the group will have to continue adding casualties until "Iraq is no longer ruled by an outside military force."

"Until then I think there will continue to be a guerrilla war to end the occupation, with all the death and destruction that that will involve," he said.

On its Web site, the group frankly admits most of its members, largely academics and musicians, are antiwar activists but says its numbers are apolitical and speak for themselves.

The figures may be cited, for example, by the pro-war camp as small compared with the U.S. carpet-bombing campaign in Vietnam believed to have killed around 2 million people, thanks to smart weapons and careful planning, it says.

Dardagan said, "One of the most common comments made by various ex-military commentators sitting in television studios during the war was that 'some civilian casualties are unavoidable in a war, however high-tech the machinery used.' This is true."

"But it leaves unanswered the question 'was the war itself avoidable?' If the war was avoidable, then so was all of the war's 'collateral' damage," he said.