Iraq PM Blocks Civilian Death Toll Release

Iraq PM Blocks Civilian Death Toll Release
October 21st, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Iraq PM Blocks Civilian Death Toll Release

Iraq PM Blocks Civilian Death Toll Release
Media: AP
Byline: n/a
Date: 20 October 2006

UNITED NATIONS - Iraq's prime minister has barred the Health Ministry from
releasing alarming casualty figures that showed violence in Iraq was killing
100 civilians a day and provided a rare insight into the worsening sectarian
conflict, according to an internal U.N. memo obtained Friday.

The memo from top U.N. envoy for Iraq Ashraf Qazi to several senior U.N.
officials said Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's office had twice instructed
the ministry not to release the numbers to the United Nations and that his
office would now be responsible for releasing any such information.

The U.N. mission in Iraq had published the Health Ministry's numbers in its
bimonthly reports about the human rights situation in Iraq. The figures were
seen as one of the rare reliable indicators of the civilian suffering in
Iraq - and U.N. officials even suspected they have underreported the actual
number of civilian deaths.

The figures gained widespread international attention in July, when they
showed that some 6,000 Iraqi civilians had died over the previous two
months, or about 100 people a day, the victims of assassinations, bombings,
kidnappings, and torture. In the next report, released in September, the
civilian death figures painted an even grimmer picture, showing civilian
deaths had risen to an all-time high of 6,599 for July and August.

In the memo, Qazi said Al-Maliki's spokesman had told the U.N. mission,
known by its acronym UNAMI, that the Health Ministry figures were

Qazi said, however, that Al-Maliki had earlier confirmed the figures during
an official visit to London. He said the government decision "may affect"
his mission's ability to report on civilian deaths in the country.

"UNAMI figures were never publicly contested by the government and may have
contributed to an increased international awareness regarding the severe
consequences that the conflict in Iraq is having on civilians," Qazi wrote
in the memo.

The contents of the document were first reported in Friday's Washington

Qazi, contacted in Baghdad on Friday, would not comment on the memo.

Iraq's deputy U.N. Ambassador Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi said the change was
meant to make sure the casualty count was as accurate as possible. He denied
the government was trying to mask the reality on the ground in Iraq, saying
it would be impossible to do that.

"The security situation in Iraq is what it is, and the people of Iraq are
aware of that," Istrabadi said. "It is not a situation whereby manipulating
numbers, you can fool people into thinking it's one thing where it's
another. It may rankle some bureaucratic feathers but I don't think it makes
any difference."

The numbers released to the U.N. were based on two sets of data from the
Health Ministry. One figure was collected from the Medico Legal Institute in
Baghdad, which tallied the number of unidentified civilians killed violently
and brought to the Baghdad morgue.

The other figure, maintained by the Health Ministry itself, recorded the
number of people violently killed brought to hospitals in the entire country
except for the Kurdistan region.

Other casualty figures for Iraq have varied widely. Earlier this month,
researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the Al
Mustansiriya University in Baghdad released a study saying nearly 655,000
Iraqis have died in the war that began in 2003. That was far higher than
other estimates, and President Bush has said he did not believe the numbers.

Qazi's note mentioned those figures and said his office hoped to comment on
them soon.

"It must be noted that increased restrictions on the release of official
data concerning victims takes place at a time of increasing media attention
and the release of scientific data on the subject," the memo said.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric refused to comment on the contents of the
note because it was private. However, he said one of the U.N. mission's
specific tasks was to report on the situation in the country.

"The U.N. has enjoyed extensive cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of
Health and the Medico Legal Institute in Baghdad and we very much hope that
that cooperation will continue," Dujarric said.

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