Straw admits that allies' failure to keep accurate record of civilian deaths is 'odd'

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, yesterday admitted that it was "odd" that there were no consistent records of the numbers of Iraqis killed since the end of the war in Iraq.

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, yesterday admitted it was "odd" that there were no consistent records of the number of Iraqis killed since the end of the war in Iraq.

The Independent revealed on Monday that no accurate records of the Iraqi dead ­ regarded as a measure of the misery in post-war Iraq ­ were being kept by the coalition.

Challenged over the report, Mr Straw conceded on BBC radio it was "odd" but said it was very difficult to keep count of the Iraqi dead. Britain estimated about 10,000 had died, including those killed in the war. Ministers are now expected to order better records to be kept in the UK sector of Iraq, following pressure from Labour MPs and Amnesty International.

Mr Straw added: "It is worth pointing out that almost all of those who have lost their lives have been terrorists or insurgents seeking to disrupt the work of the coalition to build a representative, democratic Iraq or tragically they have been caught in the crossfire."

British ministers are preparing to announce plans, expected next week, to send more than 3,000 British troops to Iraq.

Last night the Conservative leader Michael Howard disclosed he will back Labour rebels in demanding a vote in the Commons before more troops are deployed in flashpoint areas such as Fallujah.

The combined votes of the Tories, Labour rebels and Liberal Democrat MPs would threaten the Government with a disastrous defeat on Iraq.

Mr Howard told The Independent: "If it is a simple question of sending more British troops to the multi-national operation which I visited before Christmas, where British troops are now, I don't think there is a case for a fresh vote.

"If, on the other hand, the proposal is to send British troops to a different area under American command then I would support the argument which says that would be different from what they are doing now, and therefore there ought to be a fresh vote."

Downing Street said yesterday the deployment of more troops, which is expected to be announced next week, will be presented as part of the new exit strategy being negotiated between President George W Bush and Mr Blair.

Downing Street was criticised last night by former Cabinet ministers for sending out more conflicting signals over the speed of its exit after Mr Blair, in Turkey on Monday, appeared to repudiate No 10's briefing at the weekend that it was being accelerated. Yesterday, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said the coalition was "in full throttle'' in preparing for the hand over of security and diplomatic responsibility to the Iraqis.

"We are pushing as fast as we can go to make sure that the transfer of sovereignty on 1 July is real and that the process of Iraqi-isation to give the Iraqis responsibility for their own security is as fast as is consistent with maintaining the security level that's necessary to sustain that development of democracy," he said.

* A former Royal Marine has been shot dead in Iraq while working as a private contractor. Brian Tilley, 47, was killed on Friday after a gunman reportedly walked into the house where he was staying and opened fire. He had been due home on Wednesday.

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