Fri June 13, 2003 12:33 PM ET


BY ANDREW CAWTHORNE LONDON (Reuters) - Post-war studies including crucial hospital and mortuary counts show that more than 5,500 civilians died in the recent Iraq conflict, an Anglo-American research group said on Friday.

The Iraq Body Count's (IBC) latest figures -- in a survey of 15 counting projects from media and independent investigators both inside and outside Iraq -- put the minimum number of civilians dead at 5,534 and the maximum at 7,207.

The group chastised the United States and Britain for refusing to give even a minimum estimate of civilian casualties during their war to oust former President Saddam Hussein, and for not setting up an official investigation afterwards.

"Quite frankly, I don't think they want to know. It's embarrassing for them to admit to the extent of civilian casualties," IBC researcher John Sloboda, a psychology professor from Britain's Keele University, told Reuters.

The figures, from the group of British and American researchers and peace activists, are way above the old Iraqi government's estimate of a minimum 1,250 civilian deaths up to April 3. That date was a fortnight after bombing started and a week before U.S. troops swept into Baghdad.

The IBC estimates also dwarf Baghdad's figure of 2,278 civilians killed when U.S.-led forces ousted Saddam's military from neighboring Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.

The 15 projects surveyed come from a mixture of Western media organizations and largely anti-war NGOs or groups of academics and campaigners. Those groups range from the U.S.-based Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace to the Associated Press news agency and Britain's Mines Advisory Group.

Techniques ranged from scouring the media and official comments on all sides, to visiting hospitals and mortuaries, and speaking to witnesses and relatives, the IBC said.


"After the war ended, people started to go in and do on the ground studies, mainly going around hospitals and mortuaries where they found quite big numbers in some places," Sloboda said. "It just started adding up."

Some groups have estimated 10,000 civilian deaths, but the IBC said those figures had not been sufficiently substantiated.

"All (the 15 projects) recognize that more evidence remains to be gathered, but based on what is so far known, they provide converging evidence that the total number of civilians killed in the conflict is well above 5,000," the group said in its report "Counting the Human Cost" on its Web Site

Washington and London have repeatedly stressed their tactics were designed to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. But they are firmly declining to give estimates.

"We took every effort we could to try and reduce and minimize civil casualties by a careful targeting policy," a spokesman for Britain's Ministry of Defense said on Friday. "But we just don't have anything to substantiate figures."

The IBC report is sure to fuel anti-war activists' anger.

"This just proves what we've always said, that this was not only an illegal war but an immoral war which has led to the death of thousands of innocents," Andrew Burgin, of Britain's Stop the War movement, told Reuters.

As well as civilian deaths, some 170 American and British soldiers died in the war. According to U.S. military estimates, at least 2,320 Iraqi soldiers died in Baghdad alone.