Dexter Filkins
The New York Times
I’ll tell you a very good example of a problem that I’ve had — that everybody’s had — with the military, which has never been resolved. The military complains when there’ll be an engagement of one sort or another, whether it’s a car bombing or whether it’s a bunch of insurgents attacking American soldiers or they blow up a Humvee or something. And the headline says, four Americans killed in humvee attack. And whoever of the American soldiers or civilians or whoever will say, “All you do is report the Americans who were killed and we wiped out those insurgents that day.” But, by and large, when you ask them, “Did you return fire and if you did what were the results of that?” they won’t tell you, and they’ll say, “Well, we don’t do body counts.” It’s a leftover from Vietnam, kind of a bad memory. “We don’t do body counts, and so we’re not going to tell you how many people we killed and wounded.” And that becomes a huge problem because there’ll be, say, a large incident, a lot of people have been killed — insurgents, civilians, and American soldiers — huge battles going on, and you’re trying to get some sense of what actually happened and maybe somebody’s making an accusation, and they’ll say, “Well, we don’t do body counts,” and that’s like just a conversation stopper: “We don’t do body counts, sorry.” Well, it turns out they really do do body counts and they always do them. The military will decide that it is in its interests on this particular day to tell you how many insurgents they killed and wounded, they will have a very precise number, and they’ll say, “Well, actually, we killed seventeen and wounded forty-two and we took ten of them prisoner.” And then you’ll scratch your head and say, “Well, I thought you didn’t do body counts?”

Nancy Youssef
Knight Ridder (McClatchy)

You know, my focus since I’ve been reporting here has been on civilian casualties. Really since the beginning, actually. In 2003, you know, there were a million stories to pursue. I drove in the day after the regime fell. And there were these dead bodies all over the street, these swollen bodies on the sides of the streets, and I was curious. How many people died, how many civilians died in this conflict? You could go anywhere and you could do anything, and I really wanted us — and Knight Ridder wanted us — to be out on the forefront on civilian casualties. So my three colleagues and I, we got a list of every major hospital — I think it was twenty-one in Baghdad at the time — and we went through and we asked them, “How many civilians died here? How many civilians came in?” It just seemed natural. It was always about hearts and minds, hearts and minds, hearts and minds, and you would talk to civilians, and they would say, “Well, how can they win our hearts and minds? They’re killing us. They’re killing us at checkpoints, they’re killing us in our houses. What hearts and minds are they talking about?”

To me, if we’re going to talk about winning hearts and minds, it begins and ends with how many civilians are being killed in the conflict. It just kept manifesting itself in different ways: Iraqi frustration with U.S. presence here, the growth of the insurgency, the growth of terrorism, the development of al Qaeda — there was always a link back to civilian casualties. And then I thought, as an Arabic speaker and someone who can get out a little bit more, that it was a good use of my resources to focus on that, because we could get to that story in a way that most people couldn’t.

It was just on a whim one day. I thought that I’d just go to the Ministry of Health and see if they have the statistics. Because the U.S., at the time, said they didn’t have them. I thought, “Who knows, maybe they’re keeping them.” And the officials there, they gave us the numbers. I said, “I don’t suppose you have, you know, the number of civilians killed. I don’t suppose you have this divided by coalition versus noncoalition.” They said, “Sure!” And they handed me the sheet, and I thought, “Well, good Lord.”

The Editors