'1,700 civilians died as US took Baghdad'

A tally of Baghdad hospital records published yesterday suggested that at least 1,700 civilians died in the Iraqi capital during the US invasion and another 8,000 were injured. Several hundred other civilian deaths went undocumented because of the chaos of the conflict and the destruction of some hospital records. As many as 1,000 people are still missing, according to Islamic burial societies and humanitarian groups.

The tally ­ much higher than US propaganda might have led the world to believe ­ was compiled by the Los Angeles Times and based on a tour of hospitals in Baghdad and its suburbs. The paper relied on the meticulousness common to all Iraqis and dating from Saddam Hussein's obsessively bureaucratic era.

Although doctors were prevented by the steady influx of casualties from filling out death certificates in quadruplicate, they did their best to make some written record, even if it was only a line or two scrawled on scrap paper.

"We were working day and night," Abbas Timimi, director of Abu Ghraib General Hospital on the city's western outskirts, told the newspaper. "With so many people so badly hurt, we were under pressure to treat patients instead of filling out forms. But we'd always scribble something."

The US military authorities kept meticulous records on its own dead and wounded, but have offered no estimate of casualties on the Iraqi side.

The count is the first of what are expected to be several efforts to assess the human damage of the war. Human Rights Watch has begun a tally of casualties but is so far less than a week into its research.

The toll published by the Los Angeles Times is likely to stir further anti-US sentiment in Baghdad where widespread looting and chaos still persists more than a month after the fall of Saddam. There was further disappointment at the weekend when it emerged that the US and Britain had decided to put off plans for an interim Iraqi government . This had been planned for the end of this month and the postponement is likely to bolster the perception that the foreign presence represents a de facto colonial takeover.

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