updated 10/24/2004 9:18:13 PM ET 2004-10-25T01:18:13

The Army has denied most of the thousands of compensation claims Iraqis have made against the U.S. military, determining that combat accounted for most of the deaths, injuries and property damage, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Dayton Daily News’ analysis of 4,611 civil claims in Iraq — hundreds alleging abuse and misconduct by American military personnel — showed just one in four resulted in some type of payment.

The Daily News gained access to the claims in an Army database through a Freedom of Information request.

Because coalition forces are immune from civil lawsuits and criminal charges in Iraq, the only option left to Iraqis is filing for compensation under the Foreign Claims Act.

Iraqis have little recourse
However, Iraqis’ recourse is limited. The military does not pay claims for incidents deemed to be caused by “combat operations,” which could include checkpoint shootings and other incidents involving civilians.

In response to a man who claimed that his two brothers were killed and his parents injured on March 29, 2003, when coalition forces bombed his neighborhood, the military concluded: “Coalition forces dropped ordnance during Operation Iraqi Freedom on legitimate targets. Your family was in an area that was being legitimately targeted and therefore regrettably harmed.”

Another case involved a man driving to get his infant daughter who became ill while staying with his wife’s parents. The man was killed when soldiers opened fire on his car at a checkpoint. His family’s claim for compensation was denied.

‘You can feel the fury inside you’
“Our point of view toward the Americans has changed. You can feel the fury inside you,” said Amir Shleman, whose brother was killed by American soldiers. “If they treated people like human beings, no one would take up weapons against them.”

The day after his brother was killed, soldiers left $2,000 near the pillow of his widow, money the family was told was for funeral expenses.

When the family filed a claim for compensation for the man’s two children, they encountered months of delays before finally receiving a letter denying the claim, the Daily News said.

At least 437 claims seek compensation for Iraqi deaths and 468 for injuries, but those numbers likely are just a portion of the actual totals, the newspaper said.

More than 1,000 claims involved vehicle accidents, by far the largest category in the database. More than 400 claims involved destruction of crops, trees, livestock or water sources.

Average payment, one death: $3,421
According to the newspaper’s analysis, the average payment for a death in Iraq was $3,421. In addition to the formal claims system, Iraqis were sometimes given up to $2,500 in sympathy payments without any paperwork, said attorney Jack Bournazian, who held seminars to show Iraqi attorneys how to file the claims.

About 78 percent of the claims were for incidents that occurred after President Bush declared major combat operations over on May 2, 2003.

Lt. Col. Charlotte Herring, the chief of the U.S. Army’s Foreign Torts Branch, said the Army database inspected by the newspaper is incomplete. In fiscal year 2004, the Army paid 11,000 claims and denied 3,000, she said. Before this past June, however, the Army did not track how many claims were denied.

Herring said the Army, which handles civil claims for all three service branches in Iraq, has given out $8.2 million since June 2003 and budgeted $10 million in fiscal year 2005 to help Iraqis deal with losses suffered because of war.

The claims process is made difficult, officials said, because of the time it takes to sort through invalid claims.

“There were blatantly fraudulent claims,” said Marine Reserve Capt. Sean Dunn, who worked as a platoon commander and supervised claims payments in Iraq. “As soon as they realized there was money being paid, they were beating down the door wanting money for all kinds of crazy things with no evidence whatsoever.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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