by Laura King (Toronto Star, 18 May 2003)
At least 1,700 Iraqi civilians died and,more than 8,000 were injured in the battle for the Iraqi capital, according to a Los Angeles Times survey of records from 27 hospitals in the capital and its outlying districts.
In addition, undocumented civilian deaths in Baghdad number at least in the hundreds and could reach 1,000, according to Islamic burial societies and humanitarian groups trying to trace those missing in the conflict.
More than a month after the war, no official tally of civilian casualties has been given. With disorder attending the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime and the start of American military occupation, one might never be made.
The L.A. Times count of civilian casualties spans the five weeks, beginning March 20, a period that includes the U.S. bombardment and subsequent ground battle for Baghdad. It includes fatalities from unexploded ordnance during the first 2 1/2 weeks after the city fell on April 9, and deaths as a result of injuries suffered earlier during the fighting.
The survey covered all the large hospitals and most smaller specialty medical centres in the city core, as well as those in remote districts that lie within the municipal boundaries.
Victims included in the toll died as a direct result of the conflict, but not necessarily at American hands. Medical officials said many civilians even a rough estimate of the numbers is impossible were killed by exploding Iraqi ammunition stored in residential neighbourhoods, by falling Iraqi anti-aircraft rounds aimed at American warplanes, or by Iraqi fire directed at American troops.
U.S. military officials repeatedly claimed throughout the war that all possible care was being taken to avoid civilian casualties.
The occupation administration, now struggling to restore basic services and control spiralling street violence, has no plans to try to tally the civilian dead.
"We have no way of verifying, independently, whether people who were killed were civilians or not civilians," Pentagon spokesperson Lt.-Col. Dave Lapan said Friday.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to obtaining an accurate count of civilian deaths is distinguishing between Iraqi soldiers and ordinary citizens.
In the waning days of the war, many Iraqi fighters defended their positions in Baghdad but dressed in civilian clothes and discarded their dog tags, according to accounts from witnesses.
Most hospitals said if they found any indication of military affiliation, they noted it in their patient records.
"Some of them would murmur to us they were soldiers, because they wanted us to be able to help find their families if they died," said Dr. Mahmoud Kubisi, a general surgeon at the 450-bed Karameh Teaching Hospital.