US failure to count civilian deaths 'incredible'

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The Independent Online

The refusal by the US army to count the number of Iraqi civilians killed by US soldiers in Baghdad has been strongly condemned by Human Rights Watch.

Joe Stork, the acting executive director of the group's Middle East and North Africa division, said: "It is a tragedy that US soldiers have killed so many civilians in Baghdad. But it is really incredible that the US military does not even count these deaths."

Human Rights Watch collected evidence of 94 civilians being killed by the US army in the capital and confirmed 20 cases between 1 May and 30 September. The report said civilians were most likely to be killed during raids, at checkpoints, and after ambushes. "In all three circumstances soldiers often quickly resorted to lethal force," it said. Part of the problem was the use of combat troops for what are essentially policing duties.

In some cases troops behave with unnecessary rudeness towards civilians such as putting their feet on the heads of captive Iraqis when they are lying on the ground. The report says that "in Iraqi culture, the use of the feet against another person is highly insulting". The tying up and hooding of suspects, often for hours, also creates lasting bitterness.

The report, which looked at cases in which civilians were killed but not where they were wounded, calls for all alleged unlawful killings by soldiers to be investigated and those who have used indiscriminate or excessive force punished. Mr Stork said: "Right now soldiers feel they can pull the trigger without coming under review."

* A US soldier and two civilians were killed when an American patrol was attacked in Fallujah yesterday, the US military and witnesses said. A roadside bomb exploded as the patrol was driving past. Attackers then fired assault rifles at the Americans, who returned fire.