CORRECTED: 'Precision Warfare' Breaks Down in Counting Dead
Fri April 18, 2003 12:03 PM ET

(In third paragraph, corrects Internet address to

By Claudia Parsons

AS SAYLIYA CAMP, Qatar (Reuters) - The U.S. military boasts its precision-guided bombs are more accurate than ever. But counting Iraq's war dead has proved less precise.

Asked how many Iraqis had been killed since U.S.-led forces launched a war on March 20 to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Captain Frank Thorp at U.S. war headquarters in Qatar said: "We really don't know...The measure of success in this operation was whether the regime fell."

A Web Site ( run by academics and peace activists puts Iraq's civilian casualties at between 1,402 and 1,817, based on incidents reported by at least two media sources, though its methodology has been questioned.

The last Iraqi estimate issued on April 3, just two weeks into the war and well before Saddam's rule crumbled, was 1,254 civilians killed and 5,112 wounded. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has no comprehensive figures.

Neither side has given a death toll for Iraqi military dead.

Despite targeted precision-bombing, U.S. officials say they can make no accurate assessment of how many Iraqi troops their weapons killed as, even if they know a particular barracks or division was hit, they cannot tell how many people were there.

Human Rights Watch and the Center for Economic and Social Justice, which has a 12-year record working in Iraq, say they are relying on the "Body Count" Web Site and others until they can enter Iraq to make their own independent assessments.

"I don't think anybody really knows yet because the access is so limited in terms of who has been in," said Paul Sherlock, a British aid official with the United Nations.

Sherlock said the lack of concrete Iraqi casualty figures worked to Washington's advantage for now. "But it's only a matter of time before things open up," he said.

Human Rights Watch estimates 2,500 to 3,000 civilians were killed in the 1991 Gulf War, while 500 Yugoslav civilians are known to have been killed in the 1999 Kosovo bombing campaign.


U.S. officials say the war in Iraq is not over yet and it will be for historians to do a body count later.

"We're still not done. And usually the estimates come from third party, objective entities," said U.S. Major Rumi Nielson-Green, another spokeswoman at Central Command in Qatar.

"We were very deliberate and careful, as careful as we could be. We were very precise, but no one ever made a secret of the fact there would be civilian casualties," she said.

The U.S. has said it killed at least 2,320 Iraqi soldiers in the battle for Baghdad alone, while 123 of its own forces were killed in the war. Britain has reported 30 killed.

Claudio Cordone of Amnesty International urged the U.S. military to provide figures on civilians killed.

"It's difficult to find out, but...I'm not sure they're trying hard enough. The key information you have to start with comes from those who carried out the attack," he said.

The U.S. insists it only attacks legitimate military targets, and blamed Iraq itself for some civilian deaths, including as many as 62 people reported killed when a Baghdad market was bombed on March 28.

The United States and Britain say that incident, and another bombing two days earlier when at least 15 people died in a residential area, may have been caused by Iraqi anti-aircraft missiles missing their targets and falling back on the city.

Iraq insisted U.S. planes dropped the bombs.

A British Defense Ministry spokeswoman said it was too early to put out a figure for the likely Iraqi dead, though she did expect a number to be published at some point.

Independent groups also face difficulties in counting the war dead, as well as deciding who was responsible, given U.S. claims that Iraq used civilians as human shields and placed military hardware in or near schools, mosques and hospitals.

"Because of the scale of the country, it's a huge task," said one human rights worker.

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