Civilians Are Dying in Iraq, but No Hard Figures Point to How Many

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Bombed-out cars on highways. Mothers weeping over dead children. A small boy seemingly asleep, the back of his head blown off.

Evidence of civilian casualties is not hard to find in Iraq, but as fierce fighting rages in the south and Baghdad is battered by bombs, nobody can count them.

The Iraqi government reports 194 civilian dead. The Red Cross says it can vouch for 14, but there could be many more. A Web site that compiles Western news media reports says between 199 and 278 are reported dead.

The reality is that none of these figures are complete or accurate.

"There are no solid figures on civilian casualties," Geoffrey Keele, UNICEF's spokesman for Iraq, said Tuesday in Amman, Jordan.

U.S. officials say they are taking great pains to avoid killing civilians. Iraqi officials mock their assertions, and are largely succeeding in convincing large parts of the world that the war is targeting innocents.

As for overall figures, however, there is little information.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has counted 14 dead and 110 injured since Sunday in airstrikes on Baghdad. It has no figures for other parts of the country.

"We usually don't give casualty figures unless they're the result of our immediate observation," said Muin Kassis of the Red Cross in Amman.

In the southern city of Basra, where U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe, Kassis said: "We have no accurate account of casualties."

The Web site, which compiles news reports, gives a minimum count on civilian casualties of 199, and a maximum of 278. The range is due to conflicting reports.

Iraqi officials have reported more than 200 civilian casualties.

But most of the evidence of civilian casualties is anecdotal -- although no less powerful.

Journalists, taxi drivers and refugees who show up at this border tell of dozens of bombed-out cars lining the highway from Baghdad.

Iraqi newspapers publish photographs of decapitated bodies.

Every day, most Arab television stations show footage from Iraqi hospitals, where men, women and children lie in agony from injuries attributed to U.S. missiles.

"My son was killed in the shelling," wailed a woman dressed in black, lying in a hospital bed next to another son, a toddler. Her image was broadcast on the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya network.

Perhaps the greatest impact came from Qatar's Al-Jazeera network, which showed an Iraqi boy, maybe 12 years old, his head half blown off and a tranquil expression frozen on his face.

An Al-Jazeera anchor apologized for showing such disturbing pictures, but said: "The world should know the truth."

Still photos taken from the network were carried on the front pages of newspapers across the Arab world. "America's missiles of freedom assassinate the children of Basra," read a headline in Lebanon's leading newspaper, As-Safir.

Syria's official news agency SANA reported that a U.S. missile hit a passenger bus carrying fleeing Syrian workers on Sunday, killing five people and injuring 10. A U.S. Central Command spokeswoman had no information on the report.

Another U.S. missile killed a Jordanian taxi driver on Thursday while he made a phone call at Kilo 160, a rest stop 150 miles west of Baghdad.

Taxi driver Sameer Sabah, a friend of the dead man, went pale when he heard one of his passengers at the Jordanian border speaking Spanish. Spain has been a key supporter of the U.S.-led war.

"Get out of my car before I do something," he said in a chilling monotone. "Your people killed my friend. He was killed by the cold hands of the American Army."