United States military and coalition forces in Iraq keep meticulous records of soldiers killed in duty, providing daily accounts to the press,1 but they do not keep statistics on civilian deaths. “We know how many of us are killed or wounded because we know their names,” coalition military spokeswoman Lt. Kate Noble told Human Rights Watch. “But when we do return, the civilian casualties are moved or hospitalized.”2
At a press briefing in Baghdad on August 4, 2003, U.S. military spokesman Col. Guy Shields said there was “no accurate way” to keep a record:
In response to a Human Rights Watch request for information about civilian casualties, the coalition’s press office sent this reply:
While the coalition claims an accurate account of civilian deaths is impossible to maintain, Human Rights Watch collected data from a variety of sources for a database of post-war civilian casualties in Baghdad. Based on its research, Human Rights Watch estimates that U.S. soldiers killed ninety-four civilians between May 1 and September 30, 2003, in legally questionable circumstances that merit an investigation. Human Rights Watch did not verify each of these individual allegations but, taken as a whole, they reveal a pattern of alleged unlawful deaths that should prompt concern and investigations.
For the purposes of this report, a civilian casualty means an Iraqi not taking part in hostile acts against coalition forces who was killed by the U.S. military during a raid, at a checkpoint or after U.S. troops came under attack from a sniper, an ambush, or a road-side bomb. The database does not include those who died from unexploded ordinance from the war or from explosions caused when U.S. soldiers destroyed Iraqi arsenals. Likewise, civilians killed in traffic accidents with U.S. military vehicles are not included.
Human Rights Watch used six sources to obtain data:
Twenty-three deaths were reported by two or more sources, leaving a total of ninety-four.
Of the ninety-four reported civilian deaths, eight were of women. This reflects the fact that women in Iraq have led very private lives since the war, mostly due to the lack of public security.10
The data provides the ages for twenty-five of the ninety-four civilian casualties (26.6%), four of them women.11 Twenty-two of the casualties for whom ages are known, or 88%, were adults between the ages of seventeen and fifty years old.
Of the ninety-four reported civilian deaths, Human Rights Watch documented the exact date in 88 cases, or 93.6%.12 As Graph 1 shows, the patterns of deaths over time appears to include two surges and two decreases. The apparent decline in September could be due to improved checkpoint visibility, increased reliance on Iraqi police during raids and other police actions, and a general transition from combat operations. At the same time, the statistics may be low because they were collected at the end of September, before reports could be filed with the police or local human rights groups and therefore make their way into the data set. In addition, as the graph shows, previous decreases were followed by a surge, and this pattern may occur again in the future.
Iraqis rarely knew the unit of soldiers responsible for inflicting casualties. Through its own research or media reports, however, Human Rights Watch identified at least the military division, if not the specific unit, in eight incidents involving sixteen civilian deaths. Of these, the 82nd Airborne was involved in four incidents in which seven civilians were killed and the 1st Armored Division was involved in four incidents in which nine civilians were killed. Four civilians were killed in an operation by Task Force 20, a combined CIA-Army special forces team established to capture Iraq’s former rulers, but it is not clear if they were responsible for the shooting.
The following is a list of civilian casualties in Baghdad for which the specific U.S. military unit is known:
1 Between May 1 and September 30, 2003, eighty-eight U.S. soldiers were killed in hostile deaths and more than 800 wounded. During that time, there were also ninety-four non-hostile deaths and 197 non-hostile injuries among U.S. troops since May 1. [See “One U.S. Soldier Killed in Iraq Bombing,” by Robert H. Reid, Associated Press, October 1, 2003, and “3 U.S. Soldiers Are Killed in 2 Separate Incidents in Iraq,” by Terence Neilan, New York Times, October 7, 2003.]
2 Human Rights Watch interview with Lt. Kate Noble, Baghdad, September 20, 2003.
3 Department of Defense Briefing, “Coalition Provisional Authority Update Briefing to Include Background Briefing on Iraqi Compensation,” Baghdad, August 4, 2003.
4 E-mail sent to Human Rights Watch from coalition press office on September 29, 2003.
5 The articles which mention a civilian casualty by name are: “Civilian Deaths Stoke Iraqis’ Resentment,” by Vivienne Walt, San Francisco Chronicle, August 4, 2003; “Farah Tried to Plead with the US Troops But She Was Killed Anyway,” by Peter Beaumont, The Observer, September 7, 2003; “In Iraq, One Incident, Two Stories,” by Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, September 28, 2003; “Angry Iraqis Tell of U.S. Troops Fatal Errors,” by Ken Dilanian and Drew Brown, Knight Ridder, September 10, 2003; “How and Why Did Iraqi Die? 2 Tales of Anger and Denial,” by John Tierney, New York Times, August 26, 2003; “As Iraqis Die, Hate for U.S. Spreads,” by Gary Marx, Chicago Tribune, August 17, 2003; “Iraqi Gunmen Curse America at Protester’s Funeral,” by Esmat Salaheddin, Reuters, June 19, 2003; “U.S. Soldiers Shoot Dead Two Iraqi Policemen,” by Rory Mulholland, Agence France Presse, August 11, 2003; “Iraqis Mourn Family Lost in U.S. Shooting,” by Ken Dilanian, Philadelphia Inquirer, August 12, 2003; “Jittery U.S. Soldiers Firing in the Dark Kill Six Iraqis Trying to Get home Before Curfew,” by Scheherezade Faramarzi, Associated Press, August 10, 2003.
6 Amnesty International, Memorandum on Concerns Relating to Law and Order, AI INDEX: MDE 14/157/2003, July 23, 2003, and Human Rights Watch interview with Nermin al-Mufti, Baghdad, September 29, 2003.
7 “Forces Kill Two Iraqis at Checkpoint,” Coalition Joint Task Force–Seven press release, July 29, 2003; and “Iraqi Woman Killed During Attack on U.S. Soldiers,” Coalition Joint Task Force–Seven press release, August 2, 2003.
8 Human Rights Watch interview with Col. Marc Warren, Col. Mike Kelly and Major P.J. Perrone, Baghdad, September 23, 2003.
9 The victim was Izhar Mahmud Ridha, killed on August 1 in the al-Mansur neighborhood. See “As Iraqis Die, Hate for U.S. Spreads,” by Gary Marx, Chicago Tribune, August 17, 2003.
10 For details on conditions in Baghdad for women and girls, see Human Rights Watch Report, Climate of Fear: Sexual Violence and Abduction of Women and Girls in Baghdad, July 2003.
11 The ages of female victims were eight, seventeen, nineteen and seventy-five years-old.
12 In four cases, only the date when the incident was reported to the police is known. In two cases, there is no date at all.
13 “How and Why did Iraqi Die? 2 Tales of Anger and Denial,” by John Tierney, New York Times, August 27, 2003.