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"The number of civilians killed is unknown."

This is the most often-repeated statement, in the press and elsewhere, regarding the fate of civilians during the second major US assault on the city of Falluja which commenced in the first week of November 2004. There have been limited reports of individual civilians killed, but these have offered little more than glimpses behind the curtain screening a city which is to this day virtually off-limits to journalists.

The only well-sourced number (citing the director of Falluja General Hospital) to have appeared in mainstream outlets regarding these deaths comes from a report by Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a UN agency. This report has been carried in only a few other major web outlets, including Reuters' Alertnet and other UN-funded institutions such as ReliefWeb and UNAMI (UN Assistance Mission for Iraq). It is unusual not only in putting fairly firm numbers to the civilian death toll, to be discussed below, but in providing a comment on these numbers from the Iraqi Ministry of Health:

Ministry of Health officials told IRIN that they are in the process of investigating the number of deaths, but claim that a very small number of women and children were killed, contrary to what doctors in Fallujah have said.

While this may or may not be the case, in the more that two months since this report appeared the Ministry of Health has never publicized competing numbers of its own, and until it does so will have to be considered to have redacted itself from this matter. IBC has through careful research uncovered at least one earlier instance where Health Ministry figures for Falluja were claimed to contradict those produced by local doctors, then quietly dropped from the Ministry's statistics altogether [IBC Record x360] .

We are therefore forced to work with the best data that is available, which remains the IRIN report, itself unlikely to provide the full picture: it is limited to bodies recovered "from rubble where houses and shops stood", doesn't include earlier recoveries of bodies from open areas and streets, and is confined to 9 of 27 neighbourhoods. IBC is therefore publishing this entry as "provisional", pending the availability of better and more detailed information. It is being published in conjunction with an incident involving the bombing of a health clinic (IBC code k572), with which there is possible but uncertain overlap.

While the first attack on Falluja involved greatly restricted press access and reporting, this time there has been an even tighter lid kept on information, quite deliberately so. In a little-noticed report [PDF, p. 3] published in March 2005, the UN calculated that the assault on Fallujah led to $493 million in material damage to homes. The full human cost has yet to be calculated.

The IRIN figures:

700+ ("more than 700") bodies recovered
550+ "were women and children"
"a very small number of men were found in these places and most were elderly"

700-550=150 - ie., 150 of the bodies were of men. If of these men "most were elderly", using 60% as "minimum" definition of "most" then 90 were elderly; using 80% as a "maximum" definition of "most", 120 were elderly. 550+90=640; 550+120=670, leading to an unadjusted IBC entry for the post-November assault on Falluja of 640 (min) 670 (max). To adjust for k572's 59 deaths this entry's Min is reduced by 59 (to allow for the possibility of an overlap) but its Max is left untouched (to allow for the possibility that there is no overlap). This leads to a final range of 581-670.

Note:

The above calculation doesn't establish that the 30-60 non-elderly males whose bodies were recovered by the hospital emergency team were combatant males, it only allows for the possibility.

While these figures include only a very small number of fighting-age men, lower than would be demographically expected, it has to be remembered that this was not the first recovery-and-burial operation in the city, as the hospital director himself makes clear:

[Al-Iyssaue] explained that many of the dead had been already buried by civilians from the Garma and Amirya districts of Fallujah after approval from US-led forces nearly three weeks ago, and those bodies had not been counted.

This accords with other reports of earlier burials, possibly of more exposed bodies, including by US Marines:

The first task after the fighting ended was to clear human remains from the debris. The marines found more than 400 bodies and laid them temporarily in a local potato factory. Eventually they buried them in mass graves, with their heads toward Mecca and an imam's prayer.

The marines say most of the bodies they found, often without identification papers, were those of insurgents. A few residents this week found the decaying remains of relatives who had stayed during the fighting. (Altogether, American officers estimate, perhaps 5,000 residents remained in the city and are still scrounging a living there.) [NYT 06 Jan 2005]

None of the foregoing, of course, establishes which proportion of the persons buried by US Marines were in fact insurgents, but shows (on the 60%=minimum definition of "most" assumption) that at least 240 were males of fighting age, and could (rightly or wrongly) be described as insurgents.

Finally, although some of the deaths reported by IRIN may have been caused during December, too little is known about them to assign dates with any precision; as the major assault on Falluja took place in November, it is to this month that we have assigned these deaths.

As with all of its published records, IBC will revise this entry if new information becomes available.