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Hundreds died in Iraq rebuilding

At least 719 people, nearly half of them Americans, were killed working on projects to rebuild Iraq after the US invasion in 2003, an investigation has found.

In the first tally of its kind, the toll represents an aspect of the Iraq war that is rarely brought to public attention, overshadowed by the much higher number killed in combat as well as the billions of taxpayer pounds squandered on reconstruction.

There is no confirmed total number of Iraq war deaths. The US military lost 4,488 and its allies a little more than 300. The number of Iraqi deaths has not been established but is thought to exceed 100,000.

The actual number of people killed doing reconstruction work is probably much higher than 719 but cannot be reliably determined, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction said in releasing its estimate today.

The US government has no central database for this category of war casualties, and even within the US military, the records on hundreds of troop deaths are too imprecise to categorise, the report said.

The 719 include US government civilians, private contractors, military members, Iraqi civilian workers and third-country nationals. They were trainers, inspectors, auditors, advisers, interpreters and others whose mission was directly tied to the largely ad hoc reconstruction effort that began early in the war.

They helped restore Iraq's dilapidated electrical grid, improve its oil infrastructure, develop a justice system, modernise banking, set up town councils and reopen hospitals, training centres and schools. They also helped recruit and train Iraqi police, and they advised the Iraqi army. These trainers and advisers, mostly US military members, were considered part of the reconstruction effort if their mission was development of the Iraqi security forces, which had been disbanded by the US occupation authorities in May 2003.

Insurgent attacks posed one of the biggest, and least anticipated, obstacles to the reconstruction effort in Iraq, which cost American taxpayers about 62 billion dollars. Sabotage, waste and fraud took their own toll. The human cost, however, was far greater than foreseen when the invaders swiftly toppled Saddam Hussein.

The 719 killed include 318 Americans, of whom 264 were military members and 54 were civilians. The total also includes an estimated 271 Iraqi civilians and 111 third-country nationals, as well as 19 people of unknown nationality.

The figures were compiled by combing through a range of documents, including classified data on roadside bomb attacks, according to Craig A Collier, who directed the project as a senior adviser to the project. Although the 719 represent a relatively small percentage of total war deaths, it far exceeds the 172 US and coalition troops killed in the initial invasion, before president George Bush's declaration on May 1, 2003, that combat operations had ended. At that point it was mistakenly thought that the war was largely over.

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