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Precise figures on number of Iraqis killed will likely remain elusive

DOHA, Qatar—With combat seemingly ending in Iraq, it may still be years before the number of lives lost in the war is known—if ever.

American military deaths officially stand at 101, including 86 who died of combat injuries. British deaths total 31, only nine of those from hostile fire.

No one has totaled the number of Iraqi deaths, though they certainly number in the thousands. In the early days of the war, U.S. forces were amazed by what they referred to as suicide attacks by Iraqis in buses and taxis who were simply mowed down by U.S. troops. Iraqi dead numbered in the hundreds in such confrontations.

Scores, if not hundreds, more Iraqis died in mistaken shootings of civilian vehicles approaching nervous U.S. troops. There is as yet no comprehensive record of such incidents, though several have received widespread publicity. Many of the injured from those incidents were treated at American field hospitals.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that some overflowing Baghdad hospitals received more than 100 patients an hour during the most intense fighting there.

Many hospitals in the Iraqi capital have been without power or water, and some have run so low on painkillers, doctors must anesthetize patients with headache pills, according to reports in the Arab media.

Three representatives from Qatar relief agencies left Doha on Wednesday to join aid officials from Syria and Turkey in Baghdad. They plan to deliver medical supplies and assistance.

"We have been told the technology is very precise, that it won't miss the target, but that's not the case," an official with the Qatar Red Crescent Society said of American bombs.

Part of the problem with keeping exact statistics is many of the Iraqi fighters have dressed as civilians.

"We cannot begin to count" the total number, U.S. Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told reporters Wednesday. "We have done all that we can reasonably do" to prevent them.

The military typically does not investigate civilian deaths unless they become controversial. That was the case in the bombing of a Baghdad marketplace _which Central Command said was not caused by coalition forces—and the deaths on Tuesday of three reporters who died when U.S. missiles struck the Palestine Hotel and an office building near Iraq's Ministry of Information.

"When we believe we have something to look into, we look into it," Brooks said. "Baghdad remains a very dangerous place. Those that choose to stay there, remain at their own risk."

Coalition commanders warned before the war that civilian deaths were inevitable, but they said their efforts at avoiding collateral damage have been unparalleled.

Pilots studied target areas for hours before missions, often hovering over sites for more than 30 minutes to double-check coordinates and navigation systems, scout for nearby civilian buildings and determine what bomb to use, what angle to take and how fast to fly.

Targets are first identified by intelligence sources on the ground, but if pilots don't have 100 percent identification from the air, they won't drop precision-guided bombs that are accurate to within feet. Holding back can be frustrating they say, but commanders have warned them the operation does not depend on one single mission.

"It's very disappointing for the guy carrying the bombs to take them all the way back and land with them, but it's the right thing to do," said Air Force Capt. Matt Glynn, an F-16CJ pilot. "Better than taking the one in 100 chance of making a mistake."


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Jessica Guynn contributed to this report from Washington.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.