View Full Version : Baghdad Morgue Pressured To Keep Quiet About Amount Of Death

03-01-2006, 03:11 PM
Morgue pressed to stay quiet
Death toll since blast vigorously debated


The Washington Post
March 01. 2006 8:00AM

Officials overseeing Baghdad's morgue have come under pressure not to investigate the soaring number of apparent cases of executions and torture in the country, the former U.N. human rights chief for Iraq said yesterday.

John Pace, who left his post in Iraq earlier this month, spoke as Iraqi and U.S. officials offered widely varying numbers for the toll so far in the explosion of sectarian violence that followed last Wednesday's bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

Pace said the pressure had come from "both sides,"but declined to give further details. The statement appeared to refer to both the Shiite-led government and the Sunni insurgency fighting it.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari said yesterday that the death toll provided to The Washington Post by Baghdad morgue workers -more than 1,300 dead since last Wednesday - was "inaccurate and exaggerated."

Al-Jaafari said the toll was 379. Gen. Ali Shamarri of the Interior Ministry statistics department put the toll at 1,077.

U.S. and Iraqi officials offered figures yesterday both higher and lower than Al-Jaafari's count. The U.S. military said it had confirmed 220 deaths. Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Iraq, said the country's joint Iraqi-U.S. operations center reported receiving accounts of 365 civilian deaths, and said officials at the center believed the count could reach about 550.

Last week's bombing of the Askariya shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque, in Samarra unleashed the most intense burst of Shiite-Sunni violence since the U.S. invasion in 2003. Shiite religious militias, particularly the black-clad fighters of cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, deployed in their first wide-scale show of force since their battles with U.S. forces in 2004.

Many residents of areas affected by this past week's violence, and many of those picking up bodies of relatives this week, accused Sadr's Mahdi Army of abducting and killing people.

Al-Sadr's aides have denied the charges, saying others were putting on black shirts and pants similar to those worn by the cleric's militiamen to deflect blame.

On Monday, workers at Baghdad's main morgue said that more than 1,300 bodies had been brought in since the previous Wednesday and that 200 to 300 bodies remained unclaimed at the morgue. Washington Postreporters saw several dozen bodies on the floors and on gurneys and tables in the entry halls outside of the main morgue rooms. All the dead appeared to be victims of violence, as did the men in photographs of what morgue workers said were the unclaimed dead.

Many of the men had been brought to the morgue and photographed with their hands still pinioned behind their backs or tied with plastic cables in front of them.

Yesterday, the acting director of the morgue, Qais Hassan, denied the morgue had received 1,300 bodies, according to the Reuters news agency. He said the morgue had received only 309 bodies. However, even that figure, added to the more than 80 deaths in cities outside Baghdad reported by news media from Wednesday to Monday, exceeds the 379 deaths nationwide that Al-Jaafari cited.

News media tolls generally are lower than the actual tally of the dead, because not all news of attacks reaches the media, and because killings with only one victim generally are not reported unless the victims are notable figures or killed in bombings.

Many of the recent killings by torture and execution have been blamed on forces of the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry, as well as allied Shiite militias of Al-Sadr's group and of one of the other ruling Shiite religious parties in the government. Shiite leaders have repeatedly denied accusations of any involvement with death squads.

Pace, speaking by phone from his home in Sydney, Australia, said some of the officials connected with the morgue had been put "under a lot of these pressures"and had been threatened in the past and told not to investigate the killings of those brought to the morgue "precisely because it was considered a way of attributing responsibility for such crimes."

The pressure would be to underreport the numbers "or to ignore them," Pace said. "I think the pressure would be not to take into account the totality of cases."