Iraqi Soldier Death Toll Unknown, But Likely Large

In contrast to the precise count of U.S. and British war dead, there is no good estimate of the number of Iraqis who died in battle, although it is believed to be far greater than that of coalition forces.

As the war progressed, most claims of Iraqi casualties came from former Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, who chronicled civilian deaths daily but gave no numbers for soldiers.

Military analysts say figures that have surfaced so far -- such as the 2,000 to 3,000 Iraqi fighters believed killed during the first U.S. foray into Baghdad -- are simply estimates.

Efforts to calculate the Iraqi toll are complicated by the fact that many soldiers were buried in unmarked graves and while others are still covered by piles of rubble.

The lack of information is making it hard for Iraqi families to learn what happened to soldiers and to begin mourning them. Their troubles are compounded by the fact that none of the "proper financial support" promised by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has or can be paid.

Since the Vietnam War, when the U.S. military was accused of inflating enemy casualties, the Pentagon has not kept a body count for the opposing side.

Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Qatar, said enemy counts often are impossible because it is too hard to take the time to do it right in the heat of battle.

Also, he said, "casualties were never a measure of success. The measure of success was whether the regime fell."

The inflated counts of the Vietnam war, especially among critics of the conflict, created an image of a bloodthirsty U.S. military leadership that further undermined support for the hostilities.

"The thing looked like a meat grinder," John Pike, a military analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, said of the Vietnam-era tolls. "Now, they would obviously like to make people think it's like a computer game."

The coalition counts 125 dead and three missing among the U.S. troops, and 31 dead among the British.

After the first U.S. incursion into the Iraqi capital April 5, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said between 2,000 and 3,000 Iraqi fighters were believed to have been killed. At least 100 Iraqis were killed in the battle for the Baghdad International Airport.

Before the war began, government officials and independent military think tanks estimated the Iraqi military had 389,000 in active-duty, including about 80,000 members of the Republican Guard. Iraq also was believed to have 650,000 reserve troops and 44,000 to 60,000 paramilitary forces.

Central Command says more than 7,000 Iraqi fighters have been taken prisoner and a similar number is estimated to have deserted. What happened to the rest is pure guesswork.

An estimate of the overall death toll will eventually surface, in part, because the coalition has special mortuary units charged with burying the Iraqi dead once the fighting is done.

In one cemetery laid out near an airfield at the Baghdad International Airport, for example, American soldiers dug 103 graves. Any type of identification found on the dead is recorded and passed along to military headquarters so a new Iraqi government can eventually inform relatives.

But analysts point to the 1991 Gulf War as a reminder that first tallies can be deceptive.

After the war ended, the world was told as many as 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed. A decade later, researchers say between 10,000 and 15,000 soldiers died.