A Washington-based humanitarian organization urged the U.S. government this week to accurately count and identify all civilian casualties of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, following a recent announcement by President Bush that 30,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed to date.
"CIVIC believes the U.S. military needs to keep statistics on civilian casualties, particularly those caused by U.S. actions in Iraq," read a statement from the Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict (CIVIC).
Tara Sutton, Acting Field Director of CIVIC, said she believed that records were only being kept "to a certain extent" in the form of "after-incident reports" filed by the U.S. military after any armed engagement.
"Keeping accurate statistics on civilian casualties is not only the right thing to do in conflict, it mitigates resentment among Iraqi citizens and will help the military minimize harm to civilians in the future," she said.
In a December 12 speech in Philadelphia, Bush said that some 30,000 Iraqis had died in the conflict since the U.S.-led war and occupation began in March 2003.
"The acknowledgement by President Bush of the human cost of war is a positive step by this administration. It must now go further and make the counting and compensation of civilians part of U.S. policy in conflict," said Sutton. "We believe that the U.S. military goes to great lengths to avoid harming civilians; however unless they keep records, there remains little way to improve," she added.
Hassan Kubaissy, a professor at Baghdad University who has been keeping an independent count of the casualties, disputed the figure cited in Bush's speech.
"These numbers are not accurate at all," he said. "In Falluja alone, more than 10,000 people died, and now the U.S. president says only 30,000 have died in total? This is inaccurate."
A Dossier on Civilian Casualties in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, published by non-governmental organization Iraq Body Count in association with the Oxford Research Group, documented the killing of 30,892 civilians in the first two years of the occupation. Some 30 percent of these were killed in the initial invasion.
The dossier estimates that women and children account for 20 percent of the total figure, and that half of the registered civilian deaths occurred in the capital, Baghdad.
At least 45,000 civilians have also been wounded, according to the report.
The Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights and CIVIC have said that less than 10 percent of victims' families have received some form of compensation for damages.
"We are urging the U.S. government to make condolence payments an integral part of policy in Iraq, when it can be proven that U.S. military accidents caused civilian death or injury," said the CIVIC statement.
Under current policy, remuneration is "discretionary," meaning that U.S. military officers in Iraq can make the decision on the spot whether or not to compensate survivors of slain civilians or owners of destroyed property.
A report released this week by the Oxford Research Group stated that the payment of compensation for deaths, injuries and damaged property would serve to "lessen bitterness and reduce terror" in Iraq.
In places where significant offensives against insurgents had occurred, such as Fallujah, it said that more substantial funds were needed for a "massive rebuilding program" aimed at creating jobs and restoring the dignity of residents.
Most of those whose homes were destroyed in the Fallujah offensive late last year -- many of whom are still living in makeshift refugee camps -- had not received any compensation, the report added.
[Integrated Regional Information Networks is a project the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]
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