Officials Tallying Number of Iraqi Civilians Killed in War

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While officials haven't compiled the toll of Iraq's current crime wave, they are beginning to try to tally casualties from the war itself.

Iraq's Health Ministry (search) last week asked all hospitals and clinics in Iraq to send in details of civilians wounded or killed in the war. It doesn't expect to have results for weeks, and concedes that even then its final numbers will be incomplete.

The ministry counted 1,196 civilian deaths during the war, but has since compiled more hospital records and now reports 1,764. It says those numbers account for only some of the hospitals in Iraq, and none have provided statistics covering through the end of the war.

The new count, expected in late August or September, will be more complete, but still will include only those bodies brought into hospitals for death certificates. People buried by their families or left in the rubble will never be counted, officials say.

In the ministry's statistics office, men in shirt sleeves and women in headscarves tally numbers using pens, paper and solar-powered pocket calculators. All of the office's computers, and most of its records, were looted in the chaos that followed the American entry into Baghdad.

"There is no communication, no telephone, no e-mail, no transportation," said Nagham Muhsen Hussein al-Khafaji (search), head of the department. "With time we expect to have a count — God willing."

There is still no definitive study of civilians killed in the war. Reports by two international rights groups are still weeks or months away. The U.S. government says its military does its best to avoid killing civilians, and won't attempt a tally.

The only major nationwide study was done by The Associated Press in May and June. Based on the records of about half of Iraq's hospitals, it documented 3,240 deaths between March 20 and April 20, but reported that the real number is sure to be significantly higher.

The number of U.S. soldiers killed in the war is well documented. The Pentagon says 114 American military personnel were killed in combat from the start of the war to May 1, when President Bush declared major combat over, and 56 since.

Iraq kept meticulous records of its soldiers killed in action but never released them publicly. Dr. Qeis Hassan, who worked as a forensic pathologist at a military hospital during the war, said the records were "perfect."

But when Iraq lost the war, he said, someone — presumably a government official — burned the records. He said he didn't know who.