Last updated on: 1/6/2009 4:32:00 AM PST
What are the difficulties in reporting casualties in the Iraq War?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Lionel Beehner, MA, former Senior Writer for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), in a Mar. 13, 2007 article titled “The Difficulties of Counting Iraq’s War Dead,” wrote:

“Counting casualties during wartime is a murky and inexact science. In Iraq in particular, it is made more cumbersome by inadequate census data, poor security, and the lack of an official civilian body count by the government. A range of epidemiology surveys employing various methodologies have produced staggeringly varied results…"

Mar. 13, 2007 - Lionel Beehner, MA 

Brad Knickerbocker, Staff Writer for the Christian Science Monitor, stated in a Mar. 31, 2004 article "Who Counts the Civilian Casualties?" published in the Christian Science Monitor:

"It's an impossible question to answer with sure accuracy. The nature of war - in particular this kind of war in this kind of place - makes it hard to tally the 'innocent' victims. The Pentagon says it 'monitors' civilian casualties but doesn't keep such figures. Human rights groups try, but they acknowledge that their figures are estimates at best.

Battlefields may be hellish, yet they are regulated by a code called the Law of Armed Conflict. This includes the Hague and Geneva Conventions (international protocols spelling out the rules of war, in place since 1907 and 1949, respectively), in addition to various international agreements supplementing them. In sum, its principles are military necessity, distinction, and proportionality, which add up to targeting only military objectives while avoiding noncombatants.

It's difficult (and sometimes impossible) to distinguish civilian casualties from the victims of anticoalition guerrilla forces or criminals. Not all casualties are taken to hospitals where records are kept, and Muslim practice is to bury victims the same day they die, which makes recordkeeping even more challenging. Though coalition forces in Iraq do not publish totals of civilian casualties (nor does international law require them to), they do make payments - usually several thousand dollars - to individual civilians injured or to the families of those killed."

Mar. 31, 2004 - Brad Knickerbocker 

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), in its June 30, 2007 “Human Rights Report,” wrote:

“During this reporting period [Apr. 1 – June 30, 2007], UNAMI sought on several occasions to obtain overall mortality figures from Iraqi official sources, notably the Ministry of Health and its related institutions. UNAMI also urged the reversal of the ban imposed in February 2007 by Government of Iraq representatives on the release of this data. By late June, UNAMI had not received responses to its requests and Ministry of Health officials were unable to officially release the mortality data without clearance from senior government officials…
The level of casualties sustained as a result of attacks by Sunni insurgency groups, armed Shi’a militia and criminal gangs remained difficult to gauge, given the constraints imposed by the security situation. MNF [Multi-National Forces] officials involved in the implementation of the Baghdad Security Plan reported a drop in casualty figures in June, as well as greater success in reducing the number of car bomb attacks in the capital. UNAMI regrets that for this reporting period, it was again unable to persuade the Government of Iraq to release data on casualties compiled by the Ministry of Health and its other institutions. UNAMI continues to maintain that making such data public is in the public interest.”

June 30, 2007 - United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI)  

Max Rodenbeck, Chief Middle East Correspondent for The Economist, in an Aug. 14, 2003 New York Review of Books article titled "The Occupation," stated:

"The number of Iraqi soldiers killed will probably never be known. Accounting for the civilian dead is not easy, either. Scant record-keeping, the Muslim tradition of speedy burial, and the fact that many Iraqi fighters were not in uniform add to the difficulty. According to Reuters, one NGO, relying on a mix of news reports and spot surveys, recently put the likely tally at 5,000-7,000. Even assuming the number is half the lower figure, this represents ten times the human toll of September 11, relative to Iraq's population."

Aug. 14, 2003 - Max Rodenbeck 

Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi novelist, writer, and political activist, stated in a Mar. 7, 2005 article "So Much for Illusions," published by The Guardian:

"For ordinary Iraqis, simply venturing into the streets brings the possibility of attack. Most killings go unreported. With no names, no faces, no identities, they cease to be human beings. The are 'the enemy', 'collateral damage' or, at best, statistics to argue about."

Mar. 7, 2005 - Haifa Zangana 

Jim Lobe, JD, Washington Bureau Chief for the Inter Press Service News Agency, in a June 24, 2004 Inter Press Service article "Iraq War Analysis Paints Grim Picture," stated:

"Moreover, these [casualty] figures do not take account of the long-run health impacts of the estimated 1,100 to 2,200 tonnes of ordnance made from depleted uranium (DU), which many scientists blamed for illnesses among U.S. soldiers in the first Gulf War and a seven-fold increase in child birth defects in southern Iraq since 1991, that were expended during the March 2003 bombing campaign.

Nor do they account for the psychological impact of both the war and the skyrocketing violence, including murders, rapes, and kidnapping, that followed the invasion and that now keeps many Iraqi children from attending school and requires many women to stay off the streets at night. Violent deaths, according to the report, rose from an average of 14 per month in 2002 to 357 per month in 2003."

June 24, 2004 - Jim Lobe, JD