Louise Roug, Doug Smith / Los Angeles Times & Iraq Body Count.net – 2006-06-26 23:27:36
Iraqi Toll Said Nearly Double US Count
Reports Reflect Carnage since War Started in 2003
Louise Roug & Doug Smith / Los Angeles Times
BAGHDAD (June 25, 2006) — At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 US-led invasion, according to statistics from the Baghdad morgue, the Iraqi Health Ministry and other agencies — a toll 20,000 higher than previously acknowledged by the Bush administration.
Many more Iraqis are believed to have been killed but have not been counted because of serious lapses in recording the number of deaths in the chaotic first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government, and continued spotty reporting nationwide.
The toll, which is dominated by civilians but probably also includes some security forces and insurgents, is daunting: Proportionately, it’s as if 600,000 Americans had been killed nationwide during the last three years.
Iraqi government officials involved in compiling the statistics say violent deaths in some regions have been grossly undercounted, notably in the troubled province of Anbar, where local health workers often are prevented from compiling the data because of violence, security crackdowns, electrical shortages and failing telephone networks.
The Health Ministry acknowledged the undercount. In addition, the ministry said its figures exclude the three provinces that make up the semi-autonomous northern region of Kurdistan because Kurdish officials do not provide death toll figures to the government in Baghdad, the capital.
In the three years since Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled, the Bush administration rarely has offered civilian death tolls. Nongovernmental organizations have made estimates by tallying media accounts; the Los Angeles Times attempted to reach a comprehensive toll by obtaining figures from the Baghdad morgue and the Health Ministry and checking those numbers against a sampling of local health departments for undercounts.
The Health Ministry gathers numbers from hospitals in the capital and the outlying provinces. If a victim dies at the hospital or arrives dead, medical officials there will issue a death certificate. Relatives will claim the body directly from the hospital and arrange for a speedy burial according to Muslim beliefs.
If the morgue receives a body — usually those that are deemed suspicious deaths — officials there issue the death certificate.
Health Ministry officials said that because death certificates are issued and counted separately, the two data sets are not overlapping.
The Baghdad morgue received 30,204 bodies from 2003 through mid-2006, while the Health Ministry said it had documented 18,933 deaths from what was described as military clashes and terrorist attacks between April 5, 2004, and June 1, 2006. Taken together, the violent death toll reaches 49,137. But samples obtained from local health departments in other provinces show an undercount that brings the total number well beyond 50,000.
The documented cases show a country descending further into violence.
At the Baghdad morgue, the vast majority of victims have been shot execution-style. Many show signs of torture — drill holes, burns, missing eyes and limbs, officials there say. Others have been strangled, beheaded, stabbed or beaten to death.
The morgue records show a predominantly civilian toll; the hospital records gathered by the Health Ministry do not distinguish among civilians, combatants and security forces.
But Health Ministry records do differentiate among causes of death. Almost 75 percent of people who died violently were killed in what was classified as “terrorist acts,” typically bombings, the records show. The other 25 percent were killed in what was classified as “military clashes.” A health official described the victims as “innocent bystanders,” many of them shot by either Iraqi or American troops, caught in cross fire or shot accidentally at checkpoints.
There are few demarcations or front lines in Iraq, and some of the dead might have been insurgents or militia members.
“The way to think about the violence is that it’s not just the insurgent attacks that matter,” said David Lake, a member of the Center for Study of Civil War, an international group of scholars who study the causes and effects of civil war. “What we should be concerned about is the sense of security at the individual level. … If the fear has gotten out of control.”
Societies fall apart when people stop believing the government can protect them and instead turn to militias for protection, said Lake, who is also a professor of political science at UC San Diego.
“The question is, have we crossed that threshold? My sense is, we probably have, and that’s why I’m worried about the long-term outcome.”
The civilian toll in Iraq has been a sensitive issue for the Bush administration, which since the invasion has maintained it doesn’t track the number of civilian deaths. Lately, however, military officials in Baghdad have acknowledged that they track the number of civilians accidentally killed by U.S. troops.
Last year, President Bush said he believed that “30,000 (Iraqis) more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis.”
IRAQ DEATH TOLL IN THIRD YEAR
OF OCCUPATION IS HIGHEST YET
Iraq Body Count Press Release 13
(March 9, 2006) — The civilian death toll has risen inexorably for the entire duration of the US-led military presence in Iraq following the initial invasion. That is the grim reality uncovered by ongoing tracking of media reports by the Iraq Body Count project (IBC).
Figures released by IBC today, updated by statistics for the year 2005 from the main Baghdad morgue, show that the total number of civilians reported killed has risen year-on-year since May 1st 2003 (the date that President Bush announced “major combat operations have ended”):
• 6,331 from 1st May 2003 to the first anniversary of the invasion, 19th March 2004 (324 days: Year 1)
* 11,312 from 20th March 2004 to 19th March 2005 (365 days: Year 2)
* 12,617 from 20th March 2005 to 1st March 2006 (346 days: Year 3).
In terms of average violent deaths per day this represents:
* 20 per day in Year 1
* 31 per day in Year 2 and
* 36 per day in Year 3.
The IBC figure for Year 3 includes no deaths from March 2006, excludes the bulk of killings which followed the 22nd February bombing of a major Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra, and lacks Baghdad morgue data for January and February this year. If January and February 2006 are excluded as being clearly incomplete, then the daily death rate for the remaining part of Year 3 rises to 40 (11,480 deaths over 287 days = 40 per day). However even before Year 3 has ended, and with incomplete data for its final months, the number of civilians reported killed is already higher than for all of Year 2 (12,617 vs. 11,312).
Although what has been described as ‘sectarian violence’ undoubtedly contributes to a growing proportion of deaths, the last year’s total includes 370 known civilian deaths from military action by US-led forces and 2,231 from anti-occupation activity against coalition and Iraqi government targets.
The post-invasion increase in criminal activity remains an important concern, but the majority of media reports do not allow a clear identification of the perpetrators or their motives. The “unknown agents” who did most of the killing could fall into any of the categories above, as well as other types of ‘terrorist.’ Reports also indicate that the past year has seen an increasing number of extra-judicial executions.
Speaking from London, Iraq Body Count cofounder John Sloboda said, “Today’s figures are an indictment of three years of occupation, which continues to make the lives of ordinary Iraqis worse, not better. Talk of civil war is a convenient way for the US and Iraqi authorities to mask the real and continuing core of this conflict, which is between an incompetent and brutal occupying power on the one hand and a nationalist insurgency fuelled by grief, anger, and humiliation on the other. This conflict is proof that violence begets more violence.
The initial act that sparked this cycle of violence is the illegal US-led invasion of March and April 2003 which resulted in 7,312 civilian deaths and 17,298 injured in a mere 42 days. The insurgency will remain strong so long as the US military remains in Iraq, and ordinary Iraqi people will have more death and destruction to look forward to.”
Iraq Body Count cofounder Hamit Dardagan added: “In September 2003, after our first major review of civil insecurity in Iraq informed by data from the Baghdad morgue, we noted that:
‘The US may be effective at waging war but the descent of Iraq’s capital city into lawlessness under US occupation shows that it is incompetent at maintaining public order and providing security for the civilian population. The US has toppled Saddam and discovered that it won’t be discovering any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So why is it still there? And if the US military can’t ensure the safety of Iraqi civilians and itself poses a danger to them, what is its role in that country?’
“The question still stands, and Iraqis are still being killed in increasing numbers. How many more must die before the architects of the ‘military solution’ for Iraq realise that the only sure way to reduce violence is to stop inflicting it?”
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