Fri September 26, 2003 05:37 AM ET


BY ANDREW CAWTHORNE LONDON (Reuters) - Soaring violence on the streets of Baghdad since the U.S.-led war in Iraq has killed an extra 1,519 civilians, a research group said on Friday.

The Iraq Body Count (IBC), an Anglo-American group of academics and peace activists, said its study of violent deaths recorded at the main city morgue confirmed anecdotal evidence of "terror" and "mayhem" on the streets of Baghdad.

"Although the majority of deaths are the result of Iraqi on Iraqi violence, some were directly caused by U.S. military fire," the non-profit group tracking civilian deaths in Iraq said in a statement.

From mid-April to the end of August, 2,846 violent deaths were recorded by the Baghdad morgue, the IBC said, basing its figures on a variety of media sources.

After subtracting the average pre-war death rates, "a total of at least 1,519 excess violent deaths in Baghdad emerges," it added.

The majority of Iraqis keep weapons -- mainly AK-47 rifles or pistols -- and have been readier to use them since Saddam Hussein's authoritarian government was toppled on April 9.

Gunfights are frequent on Baghdad streets and revenge killings are also common as people settle old scores knowing murders will probably go unpunished.

Residents also live in fear of being caught in firefights between U.S. soldiers and suspected Iraqi guerrillas. Some have been shot accidentally by soldiers and their own police.


The IBC said the daily violent death rate recorded at Baghdad's main morgue virtually tripled from around 10 per day in mid-April to more than 28 during August.

Before the war, gunshot wounds accounted for approximately 10 percent of bodies brought to the morgue, but now make up more than 60 percent, it added.

The IBC said responsibility for the violence plaguing Baghdad's five million residents lay with the occupiers.

"The U.S. may be effective at waging war but the descent of Iraq's capital city into lawlessness under U.S. occupation shows that it is incompetent at maintaining public order and providing security for the civilian population," researcher Hamit Dardagan said.

"Ordinary Iraqis may justifiably feel ungrateful for a 'liberation' that has removed the fear of Saddam but left them under military occupation and living in terror of their own streets."

The U.S.-led military occupiers and governing authorities acknowledge the violence problem. But they insist they are doing their best to control it by confiscating weapons, detaining criminals and getting the Iraqi police force back on its feet.