The Pentagon is collecting figures on local casualties in Iraq, contrary to
its public claims, but the results are classified, according to one of the
authors of an independent study which reported last week that the war has
killed at least 100,000 Iraqis.
"Despite the claim of the head of US Central Command at the time, General
Tommy Franks, that 'We don't do body counts', the US military does collect
casualty figures in Iraq," said Professor Richard Garfield, an expert on
the effects of conflict on civilians. "But since 1991, when Colin Powell
was head of the joint chiefs of staff, the figures have been kept secret."
Professor Garfield, who lectures at Columbia University in New York and the
London School of Hygiene and Public Health, believes the Pentagon's stance
has confused its response to the latest study. "The military is saying: 'We
don't believe it, but because we don't collect figures, we can't comment,"
"Mr Powell decided to keep the figures secret because of the controversy
over body counts in Vietnam, but I think democracies need this information."
The first scientific study of the human cost of the Iraq war, published
last week in The Lancet, showed a higher level of casualties than previous
estimates. Iraqbodycount.net, a website which collects accounts of Iraqi
civilian deaths reported by two separate media sources, said yesterday the
toll was between 14,181 and 16,312, but admits that the spreading violence
in Iraq, which has made it all but impossible for journalists to move
around safely, has undermined its method. That did not prevent the Foreign
Secretary, Jack Straw, from using its figures to cast doubt on the academic
The Government would examine the results "with very great care", Mr Straw
told BBC Radio 4's Today programme last week. "It is an estimate based on
very different methodology from standard methodology for assessing
casualties, namely on the number of people reported to have been killed at
the time or around the time." Previously the Government has dismissed the
findings of the Iraqbodycount website.
The study by US and Iraqi researchers, led by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
School of Public Health in Baltimore, surveyed 1,000 households in 33
randomly chosen areas in Iraq. It found that the risk of violent death was
58 times higher in the period since the invasion, and that most of the
victims were women and children..