Iraqi Casualty Count Climbs

Relatives wait to bury their dead at the Mohammed Sakran cemetery outside Baghdad, a day after Iraqi officials say dozens of civilians died in a coalition bombing. AP

The number of casualties in the Iraqi capital is so high that hospitals there have stopped keeping count, the International Committee of the Red Cross says.

"No one is able to keep accurate statistics of the admitted and transferred war wounded any longer as one emergency arrival follows the other in the hospitals of Baghdad," an ICRC statement said.

"Ambulances are picking up the wounded and running them to the triage areas and on to hospitals. Some of the wounded try to reach the nearest hospitals by foot," the statement said.

The ICRC has teams in Baghdad, Basra and northern Iraq, but the fighting has made it too dangerous for them to work, Jakob Kellenberger, the group's president, said in an interview.

"It is an extremely precarious situation, and we remain worried," he told the French financial daily Les Echos in an interview published Monday. "The situation is preoccupying and we have to expect that it will become even worse."

The ICRC — the main aid agency left in Iraq — gave no estimates on the number of deaths and did not confirm U.S. Central Command estimates that between 2,000 and 3,000 Iraqi fighters were killed in Saturday's foray into Baghdad by American forces.

"All of the hospitals are under pressure and the medical staff is working without respite," an ICRC statement said.

It was not clear what proportion of the rising number of casualties were fighters or civilians.

U.S. Central Command has said repeatedly that it does not target Iraqi civilians and is pinpointing that sites U.S. forces strike to avoid unintended deaths or injuries.

However, Central Command or CENTCOM has launched investigations into at least seven separate incidents of alleged civilian casualties resulting from American attacks on Iraq.

Some of the incidents have been alleged by the Iraqi government, which has obvious motives for making false claims.

CENTCOM has already investigated and refuted claims that a U.S. missile killed 14 people in a Baghdad market on March 26.

Even when civilian deaths are the direct result of a U.S. combat operation, CENTCOM and the Pentagon have insisted throughout the campaign that any noncombatant casualties were Iraq's fault.
They place the blame on Iraqi military's tactics — like using human shields, irregular forces out of uniform, and at least one suicide bomber — and its strategy of locating military facilities near civilian areas.

To date, CENTCOM is probing:
  • A report by the Red Crescent society reported that a maternity hospital in Baghdad was struck Wednesday. Press reports indicate the hospital was damaged in hits on an area where an intelligence facility is located.

  • Conflicting reports of alleged civilian deaths in Hillah. Iraqi officials said 33 people were killed in a helicopter attack, but some reporters alleged that cluster bombs had killed several civilians.

  • Two bombings in Baghdad that were reported to have claimed some 68 lives.

  • An Iraqi allegation that the U.S. bombed and destroyed two buses carrying human shields.

  • Soldiers' killing of seven women and children when their van failed to stop at a U.S. checkpoint.

  • An Apache helicopter's wounding of a civilian when it fired on his vehicle.

  • Jaime Holguin

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