Archive for Sunday, May 4, 2003

Report: Civilian deaths exceed 1,100

Toll includes Baghdad only

May 4, 2003

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— The battle for Baghdad cost the lives of at least 1,101 Iraqi civilians, many of them women and children, according to records at the city's 19 largest hospitals.

The total civilian death toll was almost certainly higher. The hospital records say that another 1,255 dead were "probably" civilians, including many women and children. Uncounted others who died never made it to hospitals and now are buried in shallow graves that have been dug throughout the city -- in cemeteries, back yards, hospital gardens, city parks and mosque grounds.

More than 6,800 civilians were wounded, the hospital records show.

A Pentagon spokesman called even one civilian death too many, but military historians said that, compared with past wars, the death toll was relatively low.

The numbers, gleaned from archives that separated military from civilians, include those killed between March 19, when the U.S. air war began, and April 9, when the city fell to American forces. The biggest number of deaths appears to have occurred April 5 and 6 when U.S. troops began fighting their way into the city.

At the Shaheed Al Adnan Hospital in central Baghdad, for example, the ledger showed 44 civilian deaths in the first 17 days of the war, then 41 for the last five days, including 24 on April 5 and 12 on April 6.

Iraqi doctors acknowledge that the records may not be perfect. Although it was a fairly simple task to categorize women and children as civilians, men presented a different challenge, especially in the final days of the war. Some loyalists to Saddam Hussein reportedly fought in civilian clothes, and some soldiers shed their uniforms in retreat.

But the doctors said they were able to separate military from civilian by relying on age and other factors. In general, if a person was dressed in civilian clothes and carried no military identification the doctors assumed he was a civilian. They said that many soldiers did present military ID at the hospitals.

The records make no effort to determine whether the dead were killed by American or Iraqi fire, although the doctors believe that U.S. weapons produced most of the casualties.

"Was our record-keeping perfect?" said Dr. Basim J. Al-Shaeli, a general surgeon at Al Kharama in the city's southwest sector. "During the invasion, I was performing 10 major operations a day, staying here around the clock. While I was doing this, the shooting would be going on, bullets would be crashing into the hospital around us, and we could hear the tanks outside the gates.

"I was performing surgery on an injured neck, an injured head or face, and I was insisting that they be taken home the next day, because the demand for beds was so great, and even so we were always overcrowded. And this wasn't just me; every doctor here worked like this.

"So no, our records are not perfect. But I believe they are accurate."

The Baghdad death toll also does not include the hundreds of civilians who died in other parts of Iraq. Tabulations have not been made in many of Iraq's cities, but available information indicates hundreds of civilians died during the U.S. assault. In Najaf, for example, the Najaf Teaching Hospital reported that as of Sunday it had treated 286 civilian dead during the war. During the same period, the hospital counted 57 military dead.

The Bush administration says it will make no effort to tally Iraqi dead, either civilian or military. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society says it will have no report on civilian deaths ready until mid-May. So the hospital records provide what appears to be the first credible, if imperfect, starting point for determining how many civilians in the capital perished in the war. The Red Crescent said these 19 hospitals were the likeliest to have received dead and injured during the war.

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Most of the deaths in the city occurred in Baghdad's southwest sector, where the 3rd Infantry Division stormed the international airport April 4 and then made a well-publicized foray through Baghdad neighborhoods April 5.

Casualties in the eastern part of the city, where Marines fought most of the battles, also spiked April 5 and 6, but the overall number of civilian deaths in Marine areas was much lower.

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The records show 1,101 deaths that doctors felt were clearly those of civilians, 845 of which were recorded at three hospitals -- Al Kharama, Al Askan and Yarmuk -- near the Baghdad airport.

An additional 1,255 dead probably were civilians, doctors say, all reported at the same three hospitals near the airport. At Al Kharama, 30 percent of 450 such bodies belonged to women and children, doctors said. Others were men without identification in civilian clothes who the doctors believed were civilians. But a final determination was not made, in part because of the enormous volume of bodies to be dealt with.

By contrast, 125 American service personnel and 31 British were killed in the entire war. The last official estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths -- based on Iraqi government claims before Baghdad fell -- totaled about 1,250.

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Dr. Ameer K. Daher, a general surgeon who was trapped near his home by the fighting, noted that many people never made it to hospitals. He recalled that when cluster bombs smashed nearby houses, he and his neighbors set up a field hospital in a secondary school.

"We buried 10 people in the mosque and treated 45 more with what supplies we had in our homes," he said. "We were not the only people forced to do this."

Inad Ibrahim, records section chief at the Shaheed Adnan hospital, said everyone became well acquainted with death.

"The dead we received were people who lived in the neighborhood," he said. "The dead who didn't, well, they were buried where they died. Everyone in the hospital has heard of civilians buried in mosques, in empty yards, in football fields, anywhere. Just anyplace quickly."

"We saw many, many dead people during the war," said Dr. Hader Hassan, who worked the emergency room of the Yarmuk Hospital, one of the closest to Baghdad International Airport. "Strangers carried the bodies of strangers to us. Some were brought to us in taxicabs or private cars. There were soldiers brought to us as well, but most were civilians."

"Sixty to 70 percent of the dead and wounded who came to us were civilians," said Dr. Jawdat Ali, director of the Al-Kadhymia Pediatrics Hospital, who used a typical method for determining who was who:

"(Civilians) did not wear uniforms. They did not carry any military identification," he said. "They were often children, and women. These were not soldiers. And there were no major battles near here, no military bases. Here, the people we saw were just victims."

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Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. James Cassella said "even one civilian death is one civilian death too many."

Others noted that civilian deaths vary widely from war to war. Civilian deaths in the first Gulf War in 1991 were estimated at 3,500 from bombing and other "direct war effects," said Beth Osborne Daponte, a senior research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University. Historic conflicts such as World War II caused millions of civilian deaths.

Mark Burgess, a research analyst with the Center for Defense Information, an independent think tank in Washington, said the Baghdad numbers appear low when placed in the context of previous civilian death tolls. He cited as examples the U.S. firebombing of Tokyo or the bombing of Dresden, Germany, both during World War II. Those episodes killed tens of thousands.

"Considering the amount of ordnance dropped on Baghdad, it probably could have been a lot worse," he said. "Clearly these are a lot of casualties, and any civilian casualty is regrettable and should be examined, but looking at the number of casualties historically gives us a clearer picture."

American officials have always said that they hoped to minimize civilian casualties, and in the days before U.S. troops moved from Kuwait into Iraq, most troops were given extensive training on so-called rules of engagement intended to minimize civilian casualties.

But in the days after U.S. troops entered Iraq, the lines between Iraqi combatants and civilians blurred as U.S. supply lines came under attack by Iraqi loyalists dressed in civilian clothes. A suicide bombing at an army checkpoint near Najaf that killed four soldiers heightened tensions, as did reports that those loyal to Saddam Hussein were driving white pickup trucks, a vehicle also common among Iraqi civilians. News accounts reported several incidents of U.S. soldiers firing on cars, only to learn that their occupants were families trying to escape the fighting.

U.S. air bombing maps included several dozen "NFAs," or no-fire areas, in Baghdad, large red circles centered on clearly civilian targets such as hospitals, power plants, hotels, schools and some government ministries.

But Saddam placed his forces in schools, deployed tanks and anti-aircraft artillery in residential neighborhoods and hid rocket launchers under bridges, knowing the American reluctance to attack such places.

Drive the streets of Baghdad today and it becomes clear that the city is not London or Berlin after World War II, where bombing destroyed large stretches. The bombing damage is spotty, occasional.

Still, in many neighborhoods, residents are quick to point out exactly where American bombs ended the lives of neighbors and friends.

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On a recent day, 8-year-old Mustapha Amad lay in a ward of six beds in the Al-Karkh Hospital. Across the aisle, a girl slept, the lumps of her legs under the blanket disappearing below her knees. On April 6, midafternoon, American jets flew low over Mustapha's neighborhood. He was hiding in the house and got scared, so he ran out to his uncle.

His 27-year-old mother, Nakam Abd Al Razak, explains that she had moved in with her brother during the war because the neighborhood seemed safe, far from soldiers and fighting. She said her brother lifted Mustapha into his arms and pointed out that the American planes had gone by and that everything was all right now.

"When the planes returned, the bombs killed my uncle," Mustapha said. His own legs were shattered, although doctors believe he may some day be able to walk, if unevenly.

"Three other children near him died, as did one other young man," his mother said, finishing the story. "Another 20 people were hurt."

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Doctors at several hospitals alleged that some civilians died because American soldiers were not allowing civilian ambulances into neighborhoods near the battles.

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In front of the Al Laqa Hospital, which recorded one civilian death, an ambulance pockmarked by bullet holes is parked, on four flat tires. One of the hospital's doctors was injured, shot in the leg, when he went into it to try to reach the wounded.

"For all doctors, it was a very difficult time," said Dr. K. Al-Naimi, manager of Al Laqa. "We could not . . . get the blood, the medicines, that we needed. At times there were wounded in the streets, but we could not get to them."

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Two pregnant women were killed when an American tank shelled their ambulance on the way to Yarmuk Hospital on April 7, doctors there say. The driver and a doctor along to provide care were both injured. They add that soon afterward, shells hit the hospital's diabetes center, destroying an entire floor, which volunteer workers have been working to repair since.

Perhaps the most graphic image of the death toll is the 150 graves dug into the garden around the Al Askan Hospital.

"Our halls were full of victims of tanks, of the bombings, of the shooting," said Dr. Akeel Maltde, a resident at Al Askan. "Many of their bodies are still here, outside. Anyone can see for themselves."

But there is so much death in this city right now that even that is sometimes asking too much.

An Iraqi family told the Red Crescent last week that they had buried a 10-year-old girl during the war. Red Crescent officials uncovered the body and photographed its disfigured face, then re-buried the girl and posted the photos, hoping her family would stumble upon her image and claim her body.

They say there is too much death in this city to do more.

"Do you know how many people we are trying to help?" said Ali Ismail, who is in charge of the search for the girl's identity. "Every day we find more."

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