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Survey finds 25,000 deaths of civilians since war began

BAGHDAD -- US-led forces, insurgents, and criminal gangs have killed nearly 25,000 Iraqi civilians, including police and army recruits, since the war began in March 2003, according to a survey by a US-British nongovernment group.

Nearly half the deaths in the two years surveyed to March 2005 were in Baghdad, where a fifth of Iraq's 25 million people live, according to media reports monitored by Iraq Body Count.

Of the total, nearly 37 percent were killed by US-led forces, the group said.

The US military and the Iraqi government disputed the findings.

''We do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties in all of our operations," said US Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan, a spokesman in Baghdad. ''Since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom until now, we have categorically not targeted civilians. We take great care in all operations to ensure we go after the intended targets."

The Iraqi government said: ''We welcome the attention given by this report to Iraqi victims of violence but we consider that it is mistaken in claiming that the plague of terrorism has killed fewer Iraqis than [have] multinational forces."

Iraq Body Count said its findings provided ''a unique insight into the human consequences of the US-led invasion."

''Leaders who commit troops to wars of intervention have diminishingly few excuses for failing to seriously weigh the human costs," it said in a 28-page dossier.

The numbers included civilians, army and police recruits, and serving police. They do not include serving Iraqi military or combatant deaths, for which the survey said there are ''no reliable accounts."

Although Iraq Body Count is critical of the war, specialists have recognized its past reports for presenting carefully detailed data in addition to conclusions that reflect the authors' opposition to the war.

The group gathered its data, including figures showing more than 42,000 civilians were wounded in the same period, from more than 10,000 media reports.

The death toll almost mirrors a UN-funded survey conducted last year, which found some 24,000 conflict-related deaths since the US-led invasion.

Another survey, published in Britain's Lancet medical journal last October, indicated that there were nearly 100,000 deaths in the 18 months after the invasion, more than half due to violence. US and British officials disputed that.

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