A study by the Massachusetts-based Project on Defence Alternatives (PDA) says the available evidence shows approximately 11,000 to 15,000 Iraqis, combatants and non-combatants, were killed in the course of the US-led invasion.

“Of the total number of Iraqi fatalities during the relevant period, approximately 30% (or between 3200 and 4300) were non-combatant civilians - that is, civilians who did not take up arms,” says the study released on Tuesday. PDA has not included Iraqis killed after 20 April in its review.

The effect of such losses, the thinktank concludes, has been to strain the relationship between the US and other countries, especially those in the Muslim and Arab world. The extent of non-combatant casualties in particular has also “helped send international opinion regarding America's global role and policy to a 25-year nadir”.

As well as weakening global support for President George Bush’s so-called war on terror, the number of Iraqi deaths “has seriously exacerbated the postwar challenge inside Iraq”, by generating ill will against US occupation forces.

Previously, independent bodies such as Iraq Body Count, a volunteer group of British and US academics and researchers, estimated between 5000 and 7000 civilians died in the conflict.

Not counting the cost

No one at the US military’s Central Command in Baghdad, nor its headquarters in Tampa, Florida, was available to comment. But neither the US army nor the American-led occupation authority has released any estimates of Iraqi casualties.

Extent of civilian casualties has
fuelled ill will towards occupiers

The US Department of Defence has consistently said it does not compile figures on Iraqi losses and does not intend to.

"Our government is not providing this information and this indicates the fear they have of our reaction," said Mona Coobtee of the anti-war coalition ANSWER in Los Angeles.

She told Aljazeera.net the findings vindicated the stance of the anti-war movement, which dismissed White House claims the war would be relatively painless and instead predicted significant civilian casualties.

"We killed a lot of people," she added, "it's an obligation for us to know what happened."

Deadlier than 1991

The study finds both the number and the proportion of non-combatant deaths were higher in this spring’s Iraq war than in the 1991 Gulf war, which is believed to have caused more than 3500 civilian deaths and between 20,000 and 26,000 military fatalities.

The higher casualties in 2003 came despite “the intervening years of technological development” and improvements to US war-fighting capabilities, which PDA notes cost American taxpayers about $1 trillion.

This is because the aim of the 2003 conflict – toppling the Iraqi government – required greater use of US force that thrust deeper into Iraq, it says.

The findings are based on analysis of operational data, demographic data, several hospital and burial society surveys, media interviews with Iraqi military personnel, battlefield fatality estimates made by US field commanders and embedded reporters, and media and non-governmental accounts.