US publishes Iraq civilian death toll

AMERICA has finally released its official estimate of the civilian death toll in Iraq.

Monthly tallies of deaths in sectarian and other violence were quietly published last week – just as their totals slipped from the thousands into the low hundreds.

The new figures, produced by the Congressional Research Service, still show that more than 6,000 civilians have lost their lives from the beginning of 2008 until July of this year.

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However, this is a substantial fall from the peak of violence in January 2007, when 3,700 Iraqis lost their lives. The figure for July 2009 was 225.

American officials are delighted with the dramatic improvement in security in Iraq, especially as they focus their war on terror back on Afghanistan.

There has been much debate about exactly how many people have suffered violent deaths since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The medical journal the Lancet estimated in 2006 that there had been more than 600,000 violent deaths in the country since the invasion.

The Iraq Body Count, a website tracking violence, currently puts the figure closer to 100,000.

The Congressional Research, dated 17 September, was published on the website Secrecy News, which is run by the American Federation of Scientists.

The data in the report shows that the Pentagon has been tracking deaths of Iraqi civilians and security forces since at least January 2006, a month before the bombing of a mosque sacred to Shi'ites, which helped to ignite the violence. But the legacy from the old secrecy meant that the research service had to estimate some of the data from printed Pentagon charts because the exact figures are still classified.

According to the Pentagon figures, Iraqi civilian deaths skyrocketed from about 500 a month in January 2006 to about 3,700 the following January. At that point, the total began dropping in fits and starts, reaching about 2,000 in the late summer and autumn of 2007, and roughly 600 in January 2008.

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By the following summer, the number of civilian deaths had reduced further, reaching a plateau at around 500 a month, although there were occasional dips to lower numbers. Those trends are all mirrored in Pentagon charts that record deaths of Iraqi security forces.

Some groups claim that the Pentagon and Iraqi ministry figures are far too low. The paper by the research service does not adjudicate among the various figures, warning only that "readers should exercise caution when using them and should look to them as guideposts rather than as statements of fact".