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US military pays out $45m for war deaths
Stuff.co.nz/Fairfax New Zealand/Reuters
April 13, 2007

WASHINGTON: The US military has paid at least $US33 million ($NZ45m) to civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan for wrongful deaths and injuries, the Army said after some of the claims were made public.

Civilians have said relatives were run over by tanks, shot dead at checkpoints or killed by stray bullets, according to claims that provided a glimpse of the hazards civilians faced as the United States and its allies battled insurgents in the two countries.

Of 500 claims obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under an open government law, 200 were denied because the incident took place in combat situations – for example, a 16-year-old Baghdad youth killed by a US sniper who mistook his schoolbag for a dangerous object.

Some 165 incidents resulted in payments between $US500 and $US35,000.

Of these, half were for wrongful death, injury or property damage. Half were "condolence" payments in the which military did not admit fault.

The Army paid $US32,000 for six wrongful deaths in May 2006, when US soldiers fired into a Kabul crowd that was rioting after a traffic accident. Among the dead were a boy selling pizza and a man carrying spare parts from a mechanic's shop.

A stray howitzer round in Hib Hib, Iraq, in June 2006 killed three children and damaged several houses, resulting in a payment of $US35,000.

Other claims were denied because of a lack of civilian eyewitness, or because US or allied troops did not report the incident.

Some letters denying claims read in part, "I am sorry for your inconvenience, and I wish you well in a Free Iraq."

The Army, which handles claims for all branches of the military, said it did not know the total number of civilians that have received claims.

Of the $US33 million paid out in such claims, $US32 million was for incidents in Iraq, the Army said. The total did not include condolence payments, which can be made at the discretion of commanders on the scene.

Army Lt Col Bob Tallman said the military does not target civilians.

"It's terrible. There's no other way to characterise it," Tallman said. "Sadly because of the nature of the fight and the way the enemy fights, unfortunately sometimes civilians get caught up."

Watchdog group Human Rights Watch commended the military for compensating civilians, but said the programme should be administered more evenly and should also cover those killed by US contractors.

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