WASHINGTON - At least 24,865 Iraqi civilians have died since the U.S.-led coalition began its war in their country but the real figure is unknown because coalition forces, flouting the Geneva Conventions, refuse to aid an accurate count, said a leading medical journal.
''The adamant refusal of the U.S.A. and its partner countries to keep count of Iraqi deaths is a stance that renders farcical the Geneva Conventions' principle that invading forces have a duty to make every effort to protect civilian lives,'' said an editorial in this week's issue of The Lancet, released late Thursday. ''How can the coalition attest that it respects this obligation if it refuses to collect data to prove it?'
Leaders who commit troops to wars of intervention have diminishingly few excuses for failing to seriously weigh the human costs.
Iraq Body Count
''The U.S.-led Coalition that instigated the war claims to have acted on behalf of the Iraqi people,'' The Lancet added. ''At the very least, Iraq's beleaguered citizens deserve to be told the true price--in numbers of lost human lives--they have paid for a conflict undertaken in their names.''
The journal cited the work of Iraq Body Count (IBC), a British-U.S. non-profit group that last week reported that 24,865 civilians had died in the two years since the war in Iraq began in March 2003. The IBC database, from which data for the dossier were drawn, lists only those deaths reported by two or more news agencies, The Lancet said.
''IBC compiled a credible list of deaths using just news reports and computers,'' the medical journal said. ''The fact that the Coalition, equipped with a robust and expanding medical division, has not done so is an indefensible omission.''
Coalition spokespersons, faced with a rising death toll of Iraqis killed in bomb and gun attacks on politicians and local police and civilian targets, have laid the blame for these deaths squarely at the feet of terrorist groups.
Iraqi civilians, in media interviews, have assailed al Qaeda and religious extremists as murderers of innocents yet also have faulted the coalition, saying the violence followed the invasion and subsequent occupation.
The IBC, in its 28-page dossier, said nearly half the deaths in the two years through March 2005 were in Baghdad, where one-fifth of Iraq's 25 million people live.
U.S.-led forces killed nearly 37 percent of the total, it said.
The U.S. military disputed the findings and said it does not target civilians.
Even so, according to the IBC report, ''leaders who commit troops to wars of intervention have diminishingly few excuses for failing to seriously weigh the human costs.''
Almost one-third of civilian deaths occurred during the invasion itself, from March 20 to May 1, 2003, when U.S.-led forces carried out their ''shock and awe'' bombing campaign against Baghdad. In the first year after the invasion, another 6,000 or so civilians were killed, according to IBC. The toll nearly doubled in the second year, reflecting a general increase in violence.
The group said killings by insurgents and criminals had risen steadily.
Criminals, accounting for 36 percent of civilian deaths, came a close second to U.S.-led forces. Insurgents, however, accounted for a surprisingly small 9.5 percent.
''Unknown agents'' were responsible for 11 percent of deaths, according to IBC.
The IBC dossier covered civilians, army and police recruits, and serving police. It did not provide figures for deaths among serving Iraqi military, saying there are no reliable accounts, official or unofficial.
Based on an analysis of 10,000 media reports, the group also concluded that at least 42,000 civilians were wounded between March 2003 and March 2005.
The death toll closely resembled a U.N.-funded survey that last year found 24,000 conflict-related deaths since the U.S.-led invasion.
Conservative commentators have assailed the IBC dossier, saying the group's research was flawed.
''IBC is doing nothing more than blindly throwing darts at a dartboard,'' said Alston Ramsay, an associate editor of the National Review, wrote on the magazine's Web site.
Yet even these critics appeared to agree with calls for increased reporting of Iraqi deaths.
''Hard-and-fast numbers on civilian deaths would certainly be a boon to the national and international discourse on Iraq,'' Ramsay wrote.
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