America and Britain have the statistical resources to compute with clinical accuracy the number of pollen grains floating in the air. Yet these two states say they cannot tell anyone how many Iraqi civilians have died in the 14 months since the Iraq conflict began in March last year. As the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, conceded in an interview with The Independent last week, this ignorance is "odd".
Senior officers have been unapologetic about the failure, first highlighted by this newspaper, to collect statistics on civilian deaths.
"We don't do body counts," proclaimed General Tommy Franks, the American military commander who led the invasion. When Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the chief spokesman for US forces in Baghdad, was asked what he would say to Iraqis who saw TV footage of civilians killed by coalition troops, he replied, according to The New York Times: "Change the channel."
In Washington yesterday the pollen count was 12 for trees and grass. In Baghdad, no British or American authority - or, for that matter, an Iraqi one - could say how many civilians had died a violent death that day. Our count, based on reports of major incidents from the Associated Press and Reuters, was five: four men and one woman.
This brings to something like 11,500 the number of civilians who have died since March last year. Greater precision is not possible. America and Britain have not only declined to count the number of civilians killed, but have obstructed any attempts to discover the total. The Iraqi Health Ministry tried to collect data on deaths several months ago, but was ordered to stop.
Those seeking to know the human cost of this war have to turn to academic organisations and campaigns such as IraqBodyCount.org, which collates verified reports from mainstream news sources. Their total, not updated for some weeks, stood yesterday at 11,005.