Human Rights Watch has published a 72 page report titled Hearts and Minds: Post war civilian deaths in Baghdad caused by US forces.

The report makes uncomfortable reading for US military command which is coming under increasing criticism for the conduct of many American troops in Baghdad.

The author of the report , Fred Abrahams, spent two weeks in Baghdad talking to  US military command, American soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

Abrahams wanted to make it clear to Aljazeera.net that his report was objective and that he would stand by his findings in the face of expected criticism from the US military, mass media and sections of the American public.

''I completely reject all claims that this report is anti American, Human Rights Watch has spent a lot of time researching and interviewing individuals. We have been doing the job that the American military should be doing''.

Findings

Abraham's report concludes that US troops are not deliberately targeting Iraqi civilians, but criticises soldiers for not taking enough care to minimise death and injury.

He focuses on the behaviour of US troops at checkpoints, outlining that checkpoints need to be marked clearer and soldiers need to have a better command of the Arabic language, so that they do not confuse Iraqis who are trying to communicate with them for armed fighters.

The report is also critical of the manner in which soldiers carry out raids on civilians inside their homes. These raids are often conducted in the dark with troops firing into houses as they approach.

''Often Iraqi civilians don't realise that these are soldiers that are approaching their homes whilst shooting. Some think that they may be looters, and so they shoot back'', says Abrahams.

Keeping the Peace

''I completely reject all claims that this report is anti-American''

Fred Abrahams,
Human Rights Watch

One of the biggest areas of concern for the Human Rights Watch team is that soldiers are not adequately trained in peacekeeping.

In particular, Abrahams singles out the actions of the 82nd Airborne Division.

''Many of these soldiers have no idea how to keep the peace, they have been trained to participate in combat operations and show aggression to the enemy, and that is what many have been doing to Iraqi civilians'', says Abrahams.

Death toll

On 1 May 2003, President Bush has announced that the war in Iraq has come to and end. Since then more than 100 American troops have been killed from combat incidents according to official US figures. Attacks against US troops take place on a daily basis.

There are however no figures to show how many Iraqis have been killed since the US invasion of Iraq, something that Abrahams thinks needs to be readdressed.

''Of course it's important for the US army to document Iraqi casualties. They say that this is difficult to do, but time and energy needs to be invested into documenting this information'' he said.

US Central command told Aljazeera.net that the American army went to great lengths to protect civilians.

''US forces go to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties, even when they are at risk themselves. We investigate accusations of wrongdoing and take such claims seriously'', said a spokesman.