Today (1 May 2005) marks the two year
anniversary since George Bush declared military victory in
Iraq. And while US citizens continue to get tragic reports
of American deaths, it has been difficult to get reliable
information about the casualties suffered by the people who
call Iraq their home.
The following text is from a report filed by
Marla Ruzicka the week before she was killed in Iraq.
Marla was founder of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in
Conflict (CIVIC). In 2003, she organized surveyors across Iraq
to document civilian casualties. Before that, she managed a
similar project in Afghanistan that helped to secure
assistance from the U.S. government for civilian victims.
April 12th, 2005
In my two years in Iraq, the one question I am
asked the most is: "How many Iraqi civilians have been killed
by American forces?" The American public has a right to know
how many Iraqis have lost their lives since the start of the
war and as hostilities continue.
In a news conference at Bagram Air Base in
Afghanistan in March 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks said, "We don't
do body counts." His words outraged the Arab world and damaged
the U.S. claim that its forces go to great lengths to minimize
During the Iraq war, as U.S. troops pushed
toward Baghdad, counting civilian casualties was not a
priority for the military. However, since May 1, 2003, when
President Bush declared major combat operations over and the
U.S. military moved into a phase referred to as "stability
operations," most units began to keep track of Iraqi civilians
killed at checkpoints or during foot patrols by U.S. soldiers.
Here in Baghdad, a brigadier general commander
explained to me that it is standard operating procedure for
U.S. troops to file a spot report when they shoot a
non-combatant. It is in the military's interest to release
Recently, I obtained statistics on civilian
casualties from a high-ranking U.S. military official. The
numbers were for Baghdad only, for a short period, during a
relatively quiet time. Other hot spots, such as the Ramadi and
Mosul areas, could prove worse. The statistics showed that 29
civilians were killed by small-arms fire during firefights
between U.S. troops and insurgents between Feb. 28 and April 5
- four times the number of Iraqi police killed in the same
period. It is not clear whether the bullets that killed these
civilians were fired by U.S. troops or insurgents.
A good place to search for Iraqi civilian death
counts is the Iraqi Assistance Center in Baghdad and the
General Information Centers set up by the U.S. military across
Iraq. Iraqis who have been harmed by Americans have the right
to file claims for compensation at these locations, and some
claims have been paid. But others have been denied, even when
the U.S. forces were in the wrong.
The Marines have also been paying compensation
in Fallujah and Najaf. These data serve as a good barometer of
the civilian costs of battle in both cities.
These statistics demonstrate that the U.S.
military can and does track civilian casualties. Troops on the
ground keep these records because they recognize they have a
responsibility to review each action taken and that it is in
their interest to minimize mistakes, especially since winning
the hearts and minds of Iraqis is a key component of their
strategy. The military should also want to release this
information for the purposes of comparison with reports such
as the Lancet study published late last year. It suggested
that since the U.S.-led invasion there had been 100,000 deaths
A further step should be taken. In my dealings
with U.S. military officials here, they have shown regret and
remorse for the deaths and injuries of civilians.
Systematically recording and publicly releasing civilian
casualty numbers would assist in helping the victims who
survive to piece their lives back together.
A number is important not only to quantify the
cost of war, but as a reminder of those whose dreams will
never be realized in a free and democratic Iraq.