Iraqi dead go uncounted
- Terrified US soldiers are still killing civilians with impunity, while
the dead go uncounted
By Patrick Cockburn
04/24/05 "The Independent" - - An American patrol roared past us with
the soldiers gesturing furiously with their guns for traffic to keep
back on an overpass in central Baghdad. A black car with three young
men in it did not stop in time and a soldier fired several shots from
his machine gun into its engine.
The driver and his friends were not hit, but many Iraqis do not
survive casual encounters with US soldiers. It is very easy to be
accidentally killed in Iraq. US soldiers treat everybody as a
potential suicide bomber. If they are right they have saved their
lives and if they are wrong they face no penalty.
"We should end the immunity of US soldiers here," says Dr Mahmoud
Othman, a veteran Kurdish politician who argues that the failure to
prosecute American soldiers who have killed civilians is one of the
reasons why the occupation became so unpopular so fast. He admits,
however, that this is extremely unlikely to happen given the US
attitude to any sanctions against its own forces.
Every Iraqi has stories of friends or relatives killed by US troops
for no adequate reason. Often they do not know if they were shot by
regular soldiers or by members of western security companies whose
burly employees, usually ex-soldiers, are everywhere in Iraq.
A member of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi's party, was
passing through an American checkpoint last year when a single shot
rang out from a sniper. No US soldier was hit, but the troops at the
checkpoint hosed down the area with fire, wounding the INC member and
killing his driver.
The rector of Al-Nahrain University in south Baghdad was travelling to
a degree ceremony on the other side of the city when white men in a
four-wheel drive suddenly opened fire, hitting him in the stomach.
Presumably they thought he was on a suicide mission.
It was obvious to many American officers from an early stage in the
conflict that the Pentagon's claim that it did not count civilian
casualties was seen by many Iraqis as proof that the US did not care
about how many of them were killed. The failure to take Iraqi civilian
dead into account was particularly foolish in a culture where
relatives of the slain are obligated by custom to seek revenge.
The secrecy surrounding the numbers of civilians killed reveals
another important facet of the war. The White House was always more
interested in the impact of events in Iraq on the American voter than
it was in the effect on Iraqis. From the beginning of the conflict the
US and British armies had difficulty in working out who in Iraq really
was a civilian.
Marla Ruzicka, the American humanitarian worker who was buried
yesterday in California, had established in her last weeks in Iraq
that figures were kept based on after-action reports. Officially, she
found, 29 civilians were killed in fire fights between US forces and
insurgents between 28 February and 5 April. But these figures are
likely to be gross underestimates.
US soldiers are notorious in Iraq for departing immediately after a
skirmish, taking their own casualties but sometimes leaving damaged
vehicles. They would not have time to find out how many Iraqis were
killed or injured.
The Health Ministry in Baghdad did produce figures and then stopped
doing so, saying they had not been properly collated. Iraqi Body
Count, a group monitoring casualties by looking at media sources, puts
the total at 17,384. But most Iraqis die obscurely; it is dangerous
for reporters, Iraqi or foreign, to try to find out who is being
killed. Much of Iraq is a bandit-ridden no-man's land.
Even in Baghdad it is evident from the hundreds of bodies arriving at
the mortuary that this has become one of the most violent societies on
earth. The Iraqi Body Count figure is probably much too low, because
US military tactics ensure high civilian losses a bizarre aspect of
the war is that US commanders often do not understand the damage done
by their weapons in Iraq's close-packed cities.
US firepower, designed to combat the Soviet army, cannot be used in
built up areas without killing or injuring civilians. Nevertheless, a
study published in the Lancet saying that 100,000 civilians have died
in Iraq appears to be too high. But the lack of definitive figures
continues to dehumanise the uncounted Iraqi dead. As Dr Richard
Garfield, a professor of nursing at Columbia University and an author
of the Lancet report, wrote: "We are still fighting to record the
Armenian genocide. Until people have names and are counted they don't
exist in a policy sense."
The immunity of US troops means that there is nothing to inhibit them
opening fire in what for them is a terrifying situation. For all their
modern armament they are vulnerable to suicide bombers and roadside
bombs. In the first case the attacker is already dead and in the
second the man who detonates the bomb is probably several hundred
yards away and in cover. With nobody else to shoot at it is the
civilians who pay the price.
©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.
IRAQ: Doctors warn of increasing deformities in newborn babies.
BAGHDAD, 27 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - Doctors in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad,
have reported a significant increase in deformities among newborn babies.
Health officials and scientists said this could be due to radiation
passed through mothers following years of conflict in the country.
The most affected regions are in the south of the country,
particularly Basra and Najaf, according to experts. Weaponry used
during the Gulf war in 1991 contained depleted uranium, which could be
a primary source for the increase, scientists in Baghdad said.
"In my experiments we have found some cases where the mother or father
were suffering from pollution from weapons used in the south and we
believe that it is affecting newborn babies in the country," Dr
Ibraheem al-Jabouri, a scientist at Baghdad University, told IRIN.
According to Dr Nawar Ali, at the University of Baghdad, who works in
the newborn babies research department, a significant number of cases
of deformed babies had been reported since 2003.
"There have been 650 cases in total since August 2003 reported in
government hospitals - that is a 20 percent increase from the previous
regime. Private hospitals were not included in the study, so the
number could be higher," Ali warned.
The health expert said polluted water, which could contain radiation
from weapons used in previous conflicts, was the main factor behind
The type of deformities found in newborn babies are characterised by
multiple fingers, unusually large heads, unilateral lips or no arms or
In addition, Dr Lamia'a Amran, a pediatrician at the Iraqi Red
Crescent Society (IRCS) hospital in the capital, told IRIN that
inter-marriages were also to blame and that most of cases of deformed
babies were from poor families in the southern region.
"Most of the women who have deformed babies in our hospital are
married to relatives and have no idea that a common blood factor can
also cause such problems," Amran added.
The IRCS hospital registers at least four cases of deformities every
week. During April this year, 15 cases were reported, according to the
hospital spokesman, a number considered high for a short period of time.
However, Amran added that 60 percent of the cases were not related to
blood factors, but due to other causes. She explained that after
studying family history of couples with deformed babies, they
concluded that radiation and pollution were the main causes of the
But most of the cases reported don't survive for more than a week,
doctors said. Nearly 90 percent of such cases at the Central Teaching
Hospital for Pediatrics in Baghdad do not survive, according to Wathiq
Ibrahim, director of the hospital.
"We have asked for help from the government to make a more profound
study on such cases as it is affecting thousands of families," he told
"My two children were born with deformities and today I had my third
one with the same problem. The doctors say pollution is the cause and
now my husband wants to divorce me claiming that I am not capable of
bringing healthy children into the world," Fatima Hussein, a
34-year-old patient at the hospital, told IRIN.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) is working on developing a programme to
alert mothers to the problem. A MoH senior official told IRIN that
studies had been undertaken to discover reasons for deformities
occurring and to find solutions fast.
Officials at the World Heath Organization (WHO) have not yet developed
any kind of research on the subject, but said they would assist the
MoH if requested.
"The Iraqi government should take a lead on this issue and if we are
asked to assist we will do it," Fadela Chaib, a spokeswoman for the
WHO in Cairo, told IRIN.
"It is a very delicate problem, I have heard about cancer caused by
pollution, but deformities in newborn babies is something new and as a
result of security issues in the country our staff are outside Iraq,
which makes surveying more complicated," she added.
"Our children have started to suffer the effect of years of war and
disasters inside Iraq. The wars happened but no one cared about the
result it was going to have and today innocent lives are being lost
due to pollution and poor information," Firdous al-Abadi, a
spokeswomen for the IRCS, told IRIN.
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