Thousands of non-combatants believed
BY Jeffrey Gettleman; March 17,
The New York Times
Iraq – Nearly a yea ago, Ali Kadem Hashem watched his wife burn to death and his
three children die after an American missile hit his house.
he got $5,000 from the U.S. government and an "I'm sorry" from a young
Hashem sat for a few moments staring at the stack of crisp
Part of me didn't want to take it," he said. "It was an
But the captain insisted.
"A few thousand dollars
isn’t going to bring anybody back," Army Capt. Jonathan Tracy explained later
"But right now, it's all we can do."
It has been nearly a year since
the war in Iraq started, but U.S. military commanders are just beginning to
reckon with the volume of civilian casualties streaming in for
Twice a week at a center in Baghdad, masses of grief-weary
lraqis line up, some on crutches, some disfigured, some clutching photographs of
smashed houses and silenced children, all ready to file a claim for money or
medical treatment. It is part of a new compensation process - unique to this
Outside the room where the captain was saying he was sorry, a
long line of people waited. One was A
Ayad Bressem, a 12-year-old boy
scorched by a cluster bomb. His face is covered by a rash of ugly blue freckles.
Children on the street call him “Mr. Gunpowder.”
"I just want
something," the burned boy said.
"Come back later," a guard told hum
"You’ll get some money. But we're busy."
Military officials say they
do not have precise figures or even estimates of the number of noncombatant
Iraqis killed and wounded by U.S.led forces in Iraq.
"We don't keep a
list," a Pentagon spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell, said. "It's just not
But non-profit groups in Iraq and the United States say there
were thousands of civilian casualties, many more than in the recent conflict in
Afghanistan or in the Persian Gulf War of 1991.
According to Civic, a
non-profit organization that has surveyed Iraqi hospitals, burial societies and
hundreds of families, more than 5,000 civilians were killed between March 20,
when the war started, and May 1, when major combat operations were declared
“It says a lot that the military doesn't even keep track of
these things,” said Marla Ruzicka, Civics founder.
The Project on
Defense Alternatives, a non-partisan, arms control think tank in Cambridge,
Mass.' tracked Iraqi civilian casualties through hospital surveys and
demographic analysis. The group estimated that the number of innocents killed in
heavy combat was between 3,200 and 4,300.
Whatever the true figures,
the list is growing. Since May 1, many Iraqi civilians have been cut down by
U.S. forces in checkpoint shootings and crossfires, accidents and mishaps. Last
week a 14-year-old Kurdish girl was killed by a U.S. mortar round near the
northern city of Mosul. Army officials said soldiers fired the mortar at
terrorists. It fell short.
A few months ago, according to an official
with the Iraqi Interior Ministry U.S. soldiers shot and killed a man driving in
his car because he had a hole in his muffler and the sputtering exhaust sounded
“The Americans are so jumpy,” said Jameel Ghani Hashim,
manager of homicide statistics for the Interior Ministry.
a five-inch-thick stack of reports on his desk detailing civilian casualty
incidents. He said preliminary figures indicated that around SOO Iraqi civilians
had been killed by U.S.led forces during the occupation.
al-Mosawi, deputy director of the Human Rights organization of' Iraq, said that
more than 400 families had filed reports of wrongful deaths at the hands of U.S.
U.S. commanders declined to assess how many Iraqi civilians
had been killed by their forces during the occupation, even though some of that
information is being tabulated.
“We do keep records of innocent
civilians who are killed accidentally by coalition force soldiers," said Brig.
Gen. Mark Herding, assistant commander for the 1st Armored Division, which
patrols Baghdad. "And, in fact, in every one of those innocent death situations,
we conduct internal investigations to determine what happened."
Non-profit groups tracking civilian casualties said the military had learned
some lemons from the conflict in Afghanistan, in which hundreds of civilians
were killed after faulty intelligence steered bombs into the wrong
The groups credited the military with doing a better job in
Iraq of selecting preplanned targets to minimize civilian casualties and using
more accurate weapons.
But many groups faulted the military for its
continued use of duster bombs, explosives within explosives that sprinkle
hundreds of soda-can size "bomblets" over a wide area.
Steve Goose, an
arms expert at Human Rights Watch an organization that published two reports on
civilian casualties in Iraq, said that while the Air Force showed greater
restraint using duster bombs, the Army did not.
“The Army is still
using older weapons and firing them into heavily populated areas,” Goose
A Pentagon spokesman defended the use of cluster bombs, saying,
"Coalition forces used cluster munitions in very specific cases against valid