Up to 15,000 people killed in invasion, claims thinktank.

As many as 15,000 Iraqis were killed in the first days of America's invasion and occupation of Iraq, a study produced by an independent US thinktank said yesterday. Up to 4,300 of the dead were civilian noncombatants.

The report, by Project on Defence Alternatives, a research institute from Cambridge, Massachussets, offers the most comprehensive account so far of how many Iraqis died.

The toll of Iraq's war dead covered by the report is limited to the early stages of the war, from March 19 when American tanks crossed the Kuwaiti border, to April 20, when US troops had consolidated their hold on Baghdad.

Researchers drew on hospital records, official US military statistics, news reports, and survey methodology to arrive at their figures.

They were also able to make use of two earlier studies on Iraq's war dead from Iraq Body Count, a website which has kept a running total of those killed, and the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, which has sought to count the dead and injured of the war in order to pursue compensation claims for their families.

The new report, which estimates Iraq's war dead at between 10,800 and 15,100, uses a far more rigorous definition of civilian than the other studies to arrive at a figure of between 3,200 and 4,300 civilian noncombatants.

It breaks down the combat deaths of up to 10,800 Iraqis who fought the American invasion. The figures include regular Iraqi troops, as well as members of the Ba'ath party and other militias.

The killing was concentrated - with heavy casualties at the southern entrances of Baghdad - but as many as 80% of the Iraqi army units survived the war relatively unscathed, in part because troops deserted.

As many as 5,726 Iraqis were killed in the US assault on Baghdad, when the streets of the Iraqi capital were strewn with the bodies of people trying to flee the fighting.

As many as 3,531 - more than half - of the dead in the assault on the capital were noncombatant civilians, according to the report.

Overall in Iraq, the ratio of civilian to military deaths is almost twice as high as it was in the last Gulf war in 1991. The overall toll of the first war was far higher - with estimates of 20,000 Iraqi soldiers and 3,500 civilians killed.

However, Operation Iraqi Freedom, as the US military calls this year's war, has proved far deadlier to Iraqi civilians both in absolute numbers, and in the proportion of noncombatant to military deaths.

The findings defy the reasoning that precision-guided weapons spare civilian lives. According to the author of the study, Carol Conetta, 68% of the munitions used in this war were precision-guided, compared with 6.5 % in 1991.

However, he argued yesterday that his report demonstrated that sophisticated weaponry did not necessarily offer protection to civilians in war zones.

"Many of the recent wars have been fought with the notion of a new type of warfare that produce very low civilian casualties. What we see here is that in fact we don't have that magic bullet," he said.

"In this war in particular we see that improved capabilities in precision attacks have been used to pursue more ambitious objectives rather than achieve lower numbers of civilian dead."

Counting the human cost.

Total war dead (Iraq)
Between 10,800 and 15,100, with a midpoint of 12,950

Combatants killed (Iraq)
Between 7,600 and 10,800, with a midpoint of 9,200

Noncombatants killed (Iraq)
Between 3,200 and 4,300, with a midpoint of 3,750

War dead (Baghdad)
Between 4,376 and 5,726, with a midpoint of 5,051

Combatants killed (Baghdad)
Between 2,224 and 3,531, with a midpoint of 2,878

Noncombatants killed (Baghdad)
Between 1,990 and 2,357, with a midpoint of 2,174

[Source: The Guardian, UK, 29oct03 by Project on Defence Alternatives research]

War in Iraq

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