AMERICAN guns, bombs and missiles killed more civilians in the recent war in Iraq than in any conflict since Vietnam, according to preliminary assessments carried out by the UN, international aid agencies and independent study groups.
Despite US boasts this was the fastest, most clinical campaign in military history, a first snapshot of "collateral damage" indicates that between 5000 and 10,000 Iraqi non-combatants died in the course of the hi-tech blitzkrieg.
Organisations such as the Red Cross, the Muslim Red Crescent, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN are all still carrying out surveys and are reluctant to commit themselves to a final figure.
All agree, however, the toll will exceed the 3500 civilians killed in the 1991 Gulf war and the 1800 to 2000 innocent Afghans known to have perished during the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban and wipe out al Qaeda's training camps. US government figures for Vietnam claimed that 300,000 died in the south and 65,000 in the north of that divided country.
Haidar Taie, who runs the Red Crescent's tracing department in Baghdad, said: "We just don't know for certain. But thousands are dead, thousands more injured or missing. It will take time to reach a definitive count. It was certainly a disaster for civilians caught in the fighting."
A spokesman for the Red Cross said: "We are piecing things together slowly. Hospitals and doctors were overwhelmed by the numbers arriving for treatment, so records are patchy. The indicators from those records which were kept is a high civilian bodycount and many, many more injured."
The independent US-based Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (Civic) has sent out 150 volunteers to interview victims' families and record injuries and damage to property. The group is also cross-checking stories with grave sites.
Marla Ruzicka, Civic co-ordinator, said: "Our people have already found more than 1000 graves in the town of Nasariyah in the south, where fedayeen resistance meant days of heavy street fighting and air strikes, and at least another 1000 fresh graves in the Baghdad area."
The Red Crescent says there are many more civilian graves between Nasariyah and Najaf along the Euphrates River. Pro-Saddam militia made a number of stands and ambushes in built-up areas to slow the US advance on the capital and tanks, bombers and artillery were all used to dislodge them from populated areas.
Professor Mark Herold of New Hampshire University, who is also a spokesman for Iraqbodycount, a website dedicated to revealing the civilian cost of the war, says the running tally is "in excess of 5000 and still climbing".
The site draws on media and witness accounts for its figures. Reporters for news agencies based in Baghdad during the invasion are fairly consistent in claiming between 2300 and 2600 civilian victims of the US-led air attacks on the city.
There are no official figures for Iraqi military deaths, estimated at anywhere between 4000 and 7000.
A Pentagon source said: "It was inevitable there would be regrettable civilian losses. Our forces made every effort to minimise innocent casualties, often to the point of putting their own lives at risk.
"We have no hard facts and figures for such losses. Any non-governmental tally will include a lot of guesswork."
- May 23rd