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Archive for Sunday, June 25, 2006

At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently

Total is 20,000 more than Bush administration acknowledges

June 25, 2006

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— At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 U.S.-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 lapses in recording the number of deaths in the first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government, and continued spotty reporting.

The toll, which is dominated by civilians but probably includes security forces and insurgents, is daunting: Proportionately, it's as if 600,000 Americans had been killed nationwide during the past three years. In the same period, at least 2,520 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq.

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.

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 49,173. But samples obtained from local health departments in other provinces show an undercount that brings the total number well beyond 50,000.

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.

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 crossfire or shot accidentally at checkpoints.

The civilian toll in Iraq has been a sensitive issue for the Bush administration, which 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."

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