Middle East and North Africa

A U.S. military sign at a checkpoint outside a Baghdad hotel.
A sign at a U.S. military checkpoint outside a Baghdad hotel (Photo: Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch).
Iraq: Shooting of Italian Civilians by U.S. Forces
The killing of an Italian secret service agent and the wounding of an Italian journalist in Baghdad highlights how civilian casualties by U.S. forces, at checkpoints and elsewhere, are disturbingly common in Iraq.

On March 4, U.S. forces at a checkpoint on the road to the Baghdad airport opened fire on a car carrying Il Manifesto journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who had just been released from one month in captivity by an unknown armed group. Nicola Calipari, one of the Italian secret service agents accompanying her, was killed in the incident.

“The Italian incident is generating attention, as it should, but Iraqi civilians are also frequently subjected to this type of deadly violence,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

In an October 2003 report on civilian casualties in Iraq, Human Rights Watch documented in detail 18 cases of civilian deaths by U.S. soldiers between May and September 2003. Eleven of the victims were killed at checkpoints. In total, Human Rights Watch collected credible reports of 94 civilian deaths in Baghdad alone during that time, involving questionable legal circumstances that warrant investigation.

Iraq is clearly a hostile environment for U.S. troops, with daily attacks by insurgent groups. But that does not absolve the military from its legal obligations to use force in a restrained, discriminate and proportionate manner and only when necessary, Human Rights Watch said. Improper uses of force must be investigated in a prompt and thorough way.

Hearts and Minds
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Statistical Analysis Of Civilian Deaths

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Recent Human Rights Watch Reports on Iraq
`Ali Hassan al-Majid and the Basra Massacre of 1999
February 2005

The New Iraq? Torture and Ill-Treatment of Detainees in Iraqi Custody
January 2005

Iraq: State of the Evidence
November 2004

Claims in Conflict: Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in Northern Iraq
August 2004

The Road to Abu Ghraib
June 2004

Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq
December 2003

Climate of Fear: Sexual Violence and Abduction of Women and Girls in Baghdad
July 2003

More Human Rights Watch Work on Iraq