In a crude effort to cover up the extent of its crimes in Iraq, the US occupation authority has brought pressure to bear on the country’s health ministry officials to halt a count of civilians killed and injured during the US-led invasion in March and subsequently.
Head of the ministry’s statistics department Dr Nagham Mohsen told the media last Wednesday that she had been summoned by the director of planning Dr Nazar Shabandar last month and told to stop a survey of hospitals aimed at tallying civilian casualties. He had also ordered her not to release any of the partial information that had been collected to date.
Mohsen said Shabandar had been acting on behalf of Health Minister Dr Khodeir Abbas—a member of US-imposed puppet administration, the Iraqi Governing Council. “We stopped the collection of this information because our minister didn’t agree with it,” she said. “The CPA [the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority] doesn’t want this to be done.”
Abbas is out of the country at a conference in Egypt but, at the prompting of the CPA, issued a statement denying he or US occupation authorities had anything to do with the order. “I have no knowledge of a civilian war casualty survey even being started by the Ministry of Health, much less stopping it,” he stated, adding: “The CPA did not direct me to stop any such survey.”
Abbas’ comments are simply not credible. The ministry began its survey in July by sending out letters to all hospitals and clinics in Iraq, asking them to send details of civilians killed or wounded in the war. The study was reported in the media as early as August and a preliminary figure of 1,764 deaths has been made public. A final report was being anticipated by the media and human rights organisations. Significantly neither Abbas nor the CPA has moved to reinstate the study.
From the outset, the Pentagon has refused to keep its own tally of Iraqi casualties. US military spokesmen have contemptuously dismissed news of civilian deaths and injuries as the unfortunate but inevitable consequence of war, insisting that American and allied troops have avoided targetting civilians. But reports from a variety of sources tell a different story: that thousands of civilians have been killed, many of them through indiscriminate air strikes and the extensive use of cluster bombs.
A Los Angeles Times survey of 27 Baghdad hospitals found that at least 1,700 civilians died in the Iraqi capital alone in the five weeks from March 20, when the US invasion was launched. A more comprehensive tally by Associated Press based on information from about half of Iraq’s hospitals put the civilian death toll at 3,240 for the month following March 20.
In late October, the Project on Defence Alternatives, a US thinktank, published a report based on hospital records, official US military statistics and news reports. It estimated that between March 20 and May 1, when Bush declared the end of major combat operations, between 3,200 and 4,300 non-combatant civilians were killed in the fighting.
The Iraq Body Count, which estimates the number of civilian deaths based on a careful correlation of media reports, puts the figure far higher. Between March 20 and May 1, between 5,708 and 7,356 Iraqi civilians were killed and the number has continued to climb. The latest figures listed on its website [www.iraqbodycount.net] put the death toll at between 7,935 and 9,766.