Tuesday, June 27, 2006

War's Iraqi Death Toll Tops 50,000

Higher than the U.S. estimate, the tally likely is undercounted. Proportionately, it is as if 570,000 Americans were slain in three years.

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 not counted because of serious lapses in recording deaths in the chaotic first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government, and continued spotty reporting nationwide since.

The toll, which is mostly of civilians but probably also includes some security forces and insurgents, is daunting: Proportionately, it is equivalent to 570,000 Americans being killed nationwide in the last three years. In the same period, at least 2,520 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq.

Iraqi officials involved in compiling the statistics say violent deaths in some regions have been grossly undercounted, notably in the troubled province of Al Anbar in the west. Health workers there are unable to compile 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 northern provinces of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan because Kurdish officials do not provide death toll figures to the government in Baghdad.

In the three years since Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled, the Bush administration has rarely offered civilian death tolls. Last year, President Bush said he believed that "30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis."

Nongovernmental organizations have made estimates by tallying media accounts; The Times attempted to reach a comprehensive figure by obtaining statistics from the Baghdad morgue and the Health Ministry and checking those numbers against a sampling of local health departments for possible undercounts.

The Health Ministry gathers numbers from hospitals in the capital and the outlying provinces. If a victim of violence dies at a hospital or arrives dead, medical officials issue a death certificate. Relatives claim the body directly from the hospital and arrange for a speedy burial in keeping with Muslim beliefs.

If the morgue receives a body — usually those 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 "military clashes" and "terrorist attacks" from April 5, 2004, to June 1, 2006. Together, the toll reaches 49,137.

However, samples obtained from local health departments in other provinces show an undercount that brings the total well beyond 50,000. The figure also does not include deaths outside Baghdad in the first year of the invasion.

Three years of fighting have taken their toll on the country. Gauging how many people died in the first year after the invasion, which included the initial invasion and aerial bombardment of Baghdad, and weeks of near-anarchy afterward, has proved difficult.

According to a 2003 Times survey of Baghdad hospitals, at least 1,700 civilians died in the capital just in the five weeks after the war began. An analysis by Iraqi Body Count, a nongovernmental group that tracks civilian deaths by tallying media reports, estimated that 5,630 to 10,000 Iraqi civilians were killed nationwide from March 19 through April 2003.

Health Ministry figures for May in each of the last three years show war-related deaths more than tripling nationwide, from 334 in May 2004 to 1,154 last month. And as the violence has continued to escalate, it also has become increasingly centralized. At least 2,532 people were killed nationwide last month. Of those, 2,155 — 85% — died in Baghdad.

Source Here

Well I think we are getting closer to a more realistic estimate of the number of Iraqi civilian deaths, although (as the article acknowledges) the number could yet turn out to be much higher. It is clearly difficult for mere numbers to portray the level of grief and suffering created by these deaths or to help us to realise that each one of those civilians had a family whom continue to suffer. The article attempts to use an equivalent example to help us to understand "Proportionately, it is equivalent to 570,000 Americans being killed. "

However an equally graphic understanding could be found by looking again at the tragedy of 9/11 and noting that it would take a minimum of 16 such terrorist attacks against the United States to begin to compare(in scale) with the horrors that have been brought to the innocent people of Iraq.


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