The New York Times reported Sunday on page 13 that the U.S. military had quietly issued an estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths in the Iraq war in what was "the first public disclosure that the United States military is tracking some of the deaths of Iraqi civilians." -- But the information disclosed, the manner in which it was disclosed, and comments that accompanied were all Kafkaesque, and did nothing dispell what Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies calls "the impression that the U.S. doesn't care about Iraqis." -- The disclosure came in the form of "a single bar graph on Page 23" of "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," [.pdf] an accounting to Congress in connection with an emergency spending bill. -- "The bar graph was made public, but the data underlying it was not, so the figures used for this article were derived from measuring the bars," Sabrina Tavernise reported. -- "Colonel Venable [a Pentagon spokesman] said the information had been classified because it could allow insurgents to assess the effectiveness of their attacks" -- a ridiculous reason, given the fact that the U.S. regularly releases statistics about American deaths. -- As for the estimate itself, it is of extremely limited significance. -- It is based only on "reports filed by coalition military units after they responded to attacks." -- "'These incident reports are not intended to provide -- and do not provide -- a comprehensive account of Iraqi casualties,' Colonel Venable said. . . . The information in the reports shows 'trends in casualties resulting from insurgent attacks.' -- "Previously, the military said its records were so incomplete that it would not release any data," Sabrina Tavernise noted." -- Since "[i]t is not clear what proportion of attacks American forces respond to," the only possible use of the numbers is, as Col. Venable said, to indicate "trends in casualties resulting from insurgent attacks." -- The article in Sunday's Times makes no mention of the most important study of Iraqi deaths in the Iraq war, carried out by a team of researchers from the Lancet, a British medical journal, and published in October 2004. -- In concluding her article, Sabrina Tavernise notes that the ratio of civilians to soldiers killed in modern war has increased by about two orders of magnitude in the course of the past century: "A 2001 study on civilians in war by the International Committee of the Red Cross showed a shift in a stark statistic: In World War I, 9 soldiers were killed for every civilian, while in today's wars 10 civilians die for every soldier." ...
U.S. QUIETLY ISSUES ESTIMATE OF IRAQI CIVILIAN CASUALTIES
By Sabrina Tavernise
New York Times
October 30, 2005
Section 1, Page 13
BAGHDAD -- In the first public disclosure that the United States military is tracking some of the deaths of Iraqi civilians, the military has released rough figures for Iraqis who have been killed or wounded by insurgents since Jan. 1 last year.
The estimate of dead and wounded Iraqi civilians and security forces was provided by the Pentagon in a report to Congress this month.
It appeared without fanfare in a single bar graph on Page 23 of the document. But it was significant because the military had previously avoided virtually all public discussion of the issue.
The count is incomplete -- it provides daily partial averages of deaths and injuries of Iraqis at the hands of insurgents, in attacks like bombings and suicide strikes. Still, it shows that the military appears to have a far more accurate picture of the toll of the war than it has been willing to acknowledge.
"They have begun to realize that when you focus only on the U.S. it gives the impression that the U.S. doesn't care about Iraqis," said Anthony H. Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research group in Washington. "In these kinds of political battles you need to count your allies, not just yourself."
According to the graph, Iraqi civilians and security forces were killed and wounded by insurgents at a rate of about 26 a day early in 2004, and at a rate of about 40 a day later that year. The rate increased in 2005 to about 51 a day, and by the end of August had jumped to about 63 a day. No figures were provided for the number of Iraqis killed by American-led forces.
Extrapolating the daily averages over the months from Jan. 1, 2004, to Sept. 16 this year results in a total of 25,902 Iraqi civilians and security forces killed and wounded by insurgents.
According to an analysis by Hamit Dardagan, who compiles statistics for Iraq Body Count, a group that tracks civilian deaths, about three Iraqis are wounded in the war for each one who dies. Given that ratio, the total Iraqi death toll from insurgent violence would be about 6,475, based on extrapolations of the military's figures.
"It strikes me as low," said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch in New York. More Iraqis are dying now in insurgent attacks than at American checkpoints or in American military operations, he said, but the numbers of Iraqis killed by Americans would still add to the overall total.
Indeed, the tally is lower than the 11,163 deaths of Iraqi civilians in the war during the same period counted by Mr. Dardagan's group, which draws its data from reports of deaths and injuries by news services, newspapers, and other news outlets.
It is also lower than figures released by Iraq's Interior Ministry showing that 8,175 Iraqi civilians and police officers had been killed by insurgents from August 2004 through May 2005. Even so, the tallies show that the military has been recording Iraqi deaths by insurgents with some regularity since the first months after the invasion.
The casualties were compiled from reports filed by coalition military units after they responded to attacks, said Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, in answers to questions from the New York Times sent by e-mail.
The numbers are spotty, he said, because forces do not respond to every attack, and initial on-site counts are often incomplete. The count did not separate the dead from the wounded, nor did it differentiate between civilians and police officers or soldiers.
"These incident reports are not intended to provide -- and do not provide -- a comprehensive account of Iraqi casualties," Colonel Venable said in his e-mail message. The information in the reports shows "trends in casualties resulting from insurgent attacks."
The report, "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," was the second of the quarterly accountings mandated by Congress this year in connection with an emergency spending bill. The first, issued in July, was criticized by some members of Congress for providing too few details about the effort in Iraq.
The second report, which included the Iraqi casualty figures, was twice as long as the first and was posted on the Department of Defense Web site on Oct. 13.
Colonel Venable said information on civilians was included in the October report "as a result of specific questions posed by Congressional staffers during briefings."
"We were very interested in it," said Timothy Rieser, an aide to Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who sponsored the amendment to the fiscal year 2006 Defense Authorization Bill that calls for casualty details. "After denying that they keep these statistics, it gives the Congress something concrete to ask them about," Mr. Rieser said.
The bar graph was made public, but the data underlying it was not, so the figures used for this article were derived from measuring the bars. Colonel Venable said the information had been classified because it could allow insurgents to assess the effectiveness of their attacks. Mr. Dardagan questioned the secrecy, citing regular releases of American deaths.
"We now know that the U.S. military does keep records of Iraqi civilian deaths," Mr. Dardagan said. "There seems to be no obvious reason for keeping them a secret."
Previously, the military said its records were so incomplete that it would not release any data. In July, Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a spokesman for the American military in Baghdad, said, "We do not have the ability to get accurate data. We do not have visibility all over Iraq in every location."
After months of playing down casualty counts, the inclusion of the numbers in the report seemed to be an acknowledgment of their importance for the military, which has also begun to regularly report tallies of insurgents killed in American operations.
"You can say everything you want about the numbers not mattering," said Sarah Sewall, a lecturer in public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. But the report shows that "we recognize they are important tools for understanding."
There have been some separate attempts at tallying Iraqis killed by American troops. Mohamed al-Musawi, director of the Iraqi Human Rights Organization, said in an interview this week that he had documented 589 Iraqis killed by Americans in Baghdad since 2003.
The military began compiling its figures on casualties stemming from insurgents in June 2003, Col. Venable said.
Units are required to write reports after they respond to attacks, but they are allowed to decide which details to include.
American military officials have said attacks against Americans and Iraqis have been averaging 85 a day for much of the past year.
It is not clear what proportion of attacks American forces respond to, but Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a spokesman for the American military here, said Thursday that forces respond "whenever we can."
Civilians have moved to center stage in wars since the beginning of the 20th century. A 2001 study on civilians in war by the International Committee of the Red Cross showed a shift in a stark statistic: In World War I, 9 soldiers were killed for every civilian, while in today's wars 10 civilians die for every soldier.
Civilians are important allies for states trying to prevail in wars against violent insurgencies, and the inclusion of the figures in the report seemed to be an acknowledgment of that, Ms. Sewall said.
American forces take measures to avoid civilian casualties, warning local residents with leaflets and loudspeaker announcements before they begin operations against insurgents.
"I don't question that the intent is one of fighting well," Ms. Sewall said. "The interesting question is: why wouldn't an institution be interested in evaluating its success in minimizing civilian harm?"
--Dexter Filkins contributed reportingfrom Baghdad for this article and Eric Schmitt from Washington.