Military not keeping tally of Iraqis killed in attacks
July 7, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — About every other day, it is announced that coalition soldiers have been killed or wounded while performing their duties in this volatile country.
Hard-pressed public affairs officers file short reports on the incidents. Details are sketchy. Names of those killed aren’t mentioned and only the general type of attack is given.
Another detail that’s almost always missing: the number of Iraqis who are killed by the military in such attacks.
“In most cases, we just don’t keep a tally,” a senior military leader said Saturday during a press briefing. (Comments at such briefings can be reported to the public, but the speakers cannot be identified.)
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t Iraqis or other foreign nationals killed when U.S. and British forces come under fire. On the contrary, says Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the top U.S. general in Iraq.
“We’re killing them on a daily basis when they attack us,” the V Corps commander said Thursday during his first official news conference in country.
A day later, the coalition issued a rare press release detailing Iraqi casualties. The release stated that a patrol from the 3rd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment — a unit normally assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division but now grouped under the 4th Infantry Division — foiled an ambush near Balad. The patrol returned fire, killing 11 Iraqis but suffering no wounded itself.
The senior military leader said the inclusion of Iraqi casualties in the release was more the exception than the rule.
“We’re pretty up front with our own casualties,” he said. “But we’re just not in the business of counting bodies.”
During his news conference, Sanchez said 25 U.S. servicemembers had been killed by hostile action since May 1. Two more servicemembers have been killed in hostile action since Thursday.
But just how many Iraqis are dying in such attacks? That information may never be known.
Some of that is due to the nature of the situation in the country. There is no authority — reliable or otherwise — that’s issuing the number of casualties sustained by those putting troops in the crosshairs. And if they did seek to keep track of such numbers, coalition forces would have a tough time making an accurate count.
In the States, medical personnel who treat gunshot wounds are required to report the treatment to law enforcement authorities. Military and coalition officials attending the briefing couldn’t verify if such an agreement is present in Iraq.
It is known that hospitals, struggling to stay operational themselves, are treating civilian casualties from attacks on coalition forces, because several local and international media reports feature accounts of wounded children caught in the middle of an attack.
Even if they could gather such statistics, military officials say they probably wouldn’t release them.
Officials also said that trying to determine how much future resistance there might be in country isn’t worthwhile.
“Speaking as a soldier and a student of military history, it’s always dangerous to forecast the amount of punishment you can inflict on a population,” said another senior military leader at the briefing.
“Success here will be measured when the number of casualties, both American and Iraqi, declines.”