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The untold story of the civilian death toll

Most reports coming out of Iraq are built around the casualties of American soldiers in post-war attacks. Deaths and injuries among Iraqi civilians, however, rarely make it to the pages of U.S. newspapers, even when the Iraqis are killed in the same incident -- and even when major international newswires report these casualties.

In late July, for example, the major story out of Iraq was the killing of Saddam's two sons, Uday and Qusay, and his grandson, Mustapha, in a raid on a house in the city of Mosul. But Western media missed a crucial aspect of the story.

Several reports of the sons' deaths mentioned that some Iraqis celebrated the news in a traditional Iraqi way: firing guns into the air. What was missing in the coverage was that many Iraqis lost their lives in the celebrations. Al Mu'tamar newspaper, published by the Iraqi National Conference -- the closest of American allies -- quoted medical and security sources in Baghdad citing that 31 civilians were killed and 76 injured as a result of the revelry gunfire. No U.S. media reported such news.

This kind of reporting not only gives American readers and viewers an incomplete story, but also furthers the mistrust of American media that is becoming more and more pervasive worldwide.

Whatever the reasons for this trend, it is not due to lack of information. The stories of Iraqi civilian casualties are published and broadcast in the Arab and other international media, and the sources for these stories are none other than Western news agencies such as Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse (AFP). But these wire services' reports of civilian deaths rarely appear in U.S. newspapers.

On June 6, for example, the Arab and international press published a report from Reuters estimating the average Iraqi casualty count due to U.S. cluster bombs at 15 per day. The report quoted an official at Mines Advisory Group, who said his organization counted 80 killed and 500 injured between April 10 and June 5. Another article published July 6, based on information from Reuters and AFP, described a bomb that killed seven Iraqis and injured 40 of the new Police Academy trainees. This incident went entirely unnoticed in American media.

Other ignored reports include the killing of a 70-year-old man and three of his sons by American soldiers in the town of Balad while the family was driving near an American patrol outpost on June 15.

A review of the Arab press -- counting only deaths that were a direct result of armed U.S. or British actions, and taking care not to double-count fatalities -- reveals that since May 1, the day President Bush announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq, 245 Iraqi civilians have been killed as a direct result of military action or war-related events.

This number is small when compared to the estimate of civilian deaths from the entire war, compiled by British-based Iraq Body Count, which put the number between 6,086 and 7,797. The extensive cross-checking and conservative methods used to obtain this estimate can be reviewed at www.iraqbodycount.net. From victims of remnant cluster bomblets -- mainly children -- to civilians caught in crossfire or surprised by an American checkpoint, to victims of vengeful acts at the hands of the old regime's victims, Iraqis continue to lose their lives as a result of the war.

The ostensible American agenda in Iraq was to liberate the Iraqi people and bring democracy and accountability to the country. The military operation, after all, was named "Iraqi Freedom." During the days of Saddam's rule, no one in Iraq was allowed to say how many people were killed or why, but everyone knew. Ironically, now the information is available -- but it seems that no one wants to know.

Pakistan News Service contributor Mohamad Ozeir is a longtime journalist and former editor of the Arab American Journal. Public Eye, which usually runs in this space, will return next week.

  • The untold story of the civilian death toll

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