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Tracking the Casualties

On television, the images of bombings in Iraq come daily, but there has been little information about the scope of casualties and injuries among Iraqi civilians and soldiers.


The mourning has begun.

In the southern Iraqi city Basra, 50 people were reportedly killed on Saturday after being bombed by a U.S. fighter jet, Arab broadcaster al-Jazeera reported. The station broadcast images of dead civilians, including a decapitated child, and injured patients being treated in a local hospital. Hospital workers told the station that entire families and even a Russian national had been killed in the air strikes.

Officially, the Iraqi military has reported 77 deaths and 366 injuries in Basra. The bombing attacks in Baghdad, meanwhile, injured at least 100 people during the first three days alone, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported. On Saturday, the Iraqi government reported at least 200 injuries and deaths in Baghdad, and journalists were taken to hospitals to interview alleged civilian victims. By comparison, Britain and the U.S. have so far lost 23 soldiers in the war.

Though the United States and Britain have said they will take all possible precautions to prevent civilian casualties, both sides concede that such deaths are inevitable.

"We must realize that no matter how hard we try to avoid them, there will be civilian casualties," British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote in a newspaper editorial over the weekend. "But while the dramatic TV pictures have shown the force of the attacks on Baghdad, they have also highlighted just how much effort has gone into safeguarding civilians and ensuring the targets are Saddam's regime and machinery of control and terror."

Journalists among victims

The first reports of civilian casualties are already pouring in. Five people were killed in northern Iraq on Saturday in a suicide car bombing, including an Australian journalist who was covering the war as a freelance cameraman for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The death of a Russian journalist has also been reported in fighting near the southern city of Basra.

British private television broadcaster ITN has reported that three members of its television crew are missing. A fourth member of the crew who was injured but made it back to U.S. and British troops confirmed that the men had been shot just outside Basra. Whether or not they survived is unknown, but ITN has reported the likely death of veteran reporter Terry Lloyd, a 50-year-old who worked for the company for 20 years.

Mass deaths forecast

It's still too early to tell how many casualties the war will create, but one international organization has published gloomy forecasts. In November, the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War issued a report with estimates of the short-, mid- and longterm consequences of a war against Iraq. In a war lasting only three months, the study predicted, between 48,700 and 261,000 deaths should be expected. But the estimates did not include deaths that would result from the side-effects of war. The organization said that the breakdown of Iraq's infrastructure alone could lead to the deaths of as many as 200,000 through infections and other illnesses.

The United Nations has also painted a grim portrait of conditions for Iraqis. In a war scenario, up to three million people could be at risk of famine -- among them two million children and five and a million women who are either pregnant or breast-feeding infants. War will exacerbate an already serious situation: The international aid organization World Vision says that a quarter of all Iraqi suffer from malnutrition, and the death rate of children under five is more than twice as high today as it was in 1990.

During the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. estimated that up to 110,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed and 300,000 wounded. The number of Iraqi civilians killed was estimated at between 3,000 and 40,000. On the allied side, 343 soldiers were killed, 148 in battle. But the majority were killed in accidents, by land mines or through friendly fire from allied troops.