Different military tactics in the ground war, air war and the post-conflict period could have prevented civilian deaths, said the New York-based watchdog group’s report on Thursday.
The report, Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq, said ground-launched cluster bombs killed or hurt more than 1000 civilians, while "decapitation" strikes aimed at Iraqi leaders killed dozens of non-combatants.
Cluster munitions are small bomblets scattered on a target area by larger bombs, rockets or artillery shells. Some of those bombs contain hundreds of smaller explosive devices, which can be designed to kill enemy troops or rip treads off
A US defence official said the use of cluster munitions was legal under international law.
US and British forces used almost 13,000 cluster bombs, said the report, which was sourced to more than 200 interviews with victims and their families, Iraqi doctors, US and British military personnel and others.
'Decapitation strategy' failed to
strike Iraqi leaders
The report added that 50 strikes on Iraqi leaders-the “decapitation strategy"- failed to kill any of them. Instead, dozens of civilians were killed because of inadequate precision.
The "decapitation" strategy “also failed on human rights grounds,” said Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth. “It's no good using a precise weapon if the target hasn't been located precisely.”
Human Rights Watch said Iraqi troops broke international humanitarian law by the use of human shields and abuse of the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems.
Furthermore, the Iraq military used land mines and placed military objects in mosques and hospitals, said the report. The practice of Iraqi soldiers wearing civilian clothes blurred distinctions between civilians and combatants.
All of those tactics "may have led to significant civilian casualties," according to the report.
The exact number of Iraqi civilians killed is not known. As of Thursday, the Web site iraqibodycount.net has estimated between 7935 and 9766 civilians killed, based on incidents reported by at least two media sources.
The watchdog group said its research in Iraq between 29 April and 1 June in 10 cities was not intended to find out the number of civilian casualties but to focus on military tactics that caused them.