U.S. Quietly Issues Estimate of Iraqi Civilian Casualties

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In the first public disclosure that the United States military is tracking some of the deaths of Iraqi civilians, the military has released rough figures for Iraqis who have been killed or wounded by insurgents since Jan. 1 last year. The estimate of dead and wounded Iraqi civilians and security forces was provided by the Pentagon in a report to Congress this month.

It appeared without fanfare in a single bar graph on Page 23 of the document. But it was significant because the military had previously avoided virtually all public discussion of the issue.

According to the graph, Iraqi civilians and security forces were killed and wounded by insurgents at a rate of about 26 a day early in 2004, and at a rate of about 40 a day later that year. The rate increased in 2005 to about 51 a day, and by the end of August had jumped to about 63 a day. No figures were provided for the number of Iraqis killed by American-led forces.

Extrapolating the daily averages over the months from Jan. 1, 2004, to Sept. 16 this year results in a total of 25,902 Iraqi civilians and security forces killed and wounded by insurgents.

Civilians have moved to center stage in wars since the beginning of the 20th century. A 2001 study on civilians in war by the International Committee of the Red Cross showed a shift in a stark statistic: In World War I, 9 soldiers were killed for every civilian, while in today's wars 10 civilians die for every soldier.

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Thomas Spear - 10/31/2005

The DoD figures for civilian casualties in Iraq quoted in the NYT 10/30/05 vastly underestimate the total number of civilians killed in the war, the majority of whom were killed by US and coalition forces. While the report cites 25,902 civillians casualties (or 6,475 deaths) caused by the insurgents for the period January 1, 2004 to September 16, 2005, an authoritative Johns Hopkins study published in the prestigious British medical journal, "The Lancet," October 29, 2004, reports that a total of more than 100,000 violent civilian deaths occurred from March 2003 to October 2004. More importantly, 43% of these deaths (or 43,000) were caused by US and coalition forces, as opposed to 14% (or 14,000) caused by the insurgents. Finally, a majority of those 43,000 were women and children killed in bombing raids. These figures have been largely ignored by the military and the press, including the New York Times, thus obscuring the reasons why so many Iraqis oppose the continuing occupation.

Thomas Spear
Professor of History Emeritus
University of Wisconsin-Madison