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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 December, 2003, 18:06 GMT
Iraq disputes US casualty figures

By Peter Greste
BBC correspondent, Baghdad

Iraqi looks at bullet damaged wall
Walls were left pock-marked after heavy exchange of gunfire
Officials in the northern Iraqi town of Samarra have disputed the US accounts of the number of people killed in a gun battle on Sunday.

The American military has said 54 Iraqis died, and another 16 were wounded in what it described as the bloodiest fire-fight since the end of the war.

No-one is disputing the fact that there was a fierce fire-fight in northern city on Sunday.

It began when attackers ambushed an American armoured convoy on a mission to change old Iraqi dinars bearing Saddam Hussein's portrait with newly-designed currency.

Organised attack

An American military spokesman said the battle that followed was the best organised and co-ordinated assault on their forces that they have encountered since Baghdad fell.

But Samarra is known to be at the heart of the resistance movement, and attackers had tried to ambush similar convoys in the past, so their troops were well prepared.

The spokesman described a battle that sounded like a blood-bath, as US troops turned their weapons on anybody shooting at them.

The reports that we have are from visual battlefield reports... that's why we have said that all of these are simply estimated killed and wounded
US Brigadier General, Mark Kimmitt
The cost to the Americans: five wounded, soldiers, none in a life-threatening condition; and one wounded civilian.

But now local officials say the American accounts of dead and wounded are wildly exaggerated.

The Samarra's hospital director, Abd Tawfiq, said his staff treated 80 casualties and received just eight dead.

Even so, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt has admitted that the US figures are only estimates.

"The reports that we have are from visual battlefield reports," he said. "These are reports that we got from the soldiers who were involved in the engagement and that is why we have said that all of these are simply estimated killed and wounded."

But a battle seen through a tank's periscope is a very narrow view indeed and it is likely that in the heat of the conflict, soldiers may well have assumed that they killed someone who was, in fact, only wounded.

US troops pass stretcher used to carry Japanese diplomat killed in Tikrit
The Samarra battle followed a wave of ambushes on "soft targets"
Sergeant Nicholas Mullen, a gunner in an Abrams battle tank, offered another explanation: "We don't stick around to collect the bodies," he said.

In fact, the American and Iraqi tallies of combined dead and wounded are not that far off one another.

The military counted 70 to the Samarra hospital's 88. It is a discrepancy that is not unrealistic given the type of engagement.

The Americans were using enormously powerful weapons, including 50 mm cannons mounted on Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and 120 mm tank rounds from the Abrams.

Used in a densely populated urban area, built with flimsy mud-bricks, it is almost inconceivable that people well out of sight of the gunners were not also injured in the battle.

In pictures: Samarra clashes
01 Dec 03  |  Photo Gallery

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