- Death in Iraq. It is relentless and incessant.
- Know what it is like when scores of your
fellow citizens are being killed every single day while the world proceeds
unheedingly on? As a journalist I've had but a taste of that poison during
my eight months in Iraq. Try it out: be an Iraqi for a day, into your fourth
year of being occupied, humiliated, tortured and killed, doing all you
can just to survive.
- All communication with my Iraqi friends
is punctuated by and smattered with their use of the words "praying,"
"God," and "Insha'allah" (God willing). Perhaps there
is need to invoke something else altogether? And all the dead air is alive.
With the smell of America's God. - Harold Pinter, "War With Iraq"
- On one of the days when multiple car
bombs drained the blood and souls of scores in Baghdad, my closest friend
wrote from there: "Dahr, This is a very sad letter I'm writing you
as a friend. My tears are coming down due to the humiliation, suffering,
frustration, thwarting defeat and discomfiture we the Iraqi are living
in. Please let people know some of the news of what is happening to my
country, my people and my religion."
- Death lurks everywhere in Iraq today.
Keeping up with the numbers of dead is impossible. A doctor working at
one of the larger hospitals in Baghdad recently called it a "camp"
because the courtyard of the hospital is constantly filled with members
of the Shia Badr militia, who continue to carry out their death squad activities
of killing Sunnis and rival Shia. "The Badr are all over the hospital,
looking for people," said the doctor. "The injured brought here
sometimes die before even reaching the ward, because the Badr are being
obstacles for us. One of the men running our morgue was killed by the Badr.
My friends are warning me to be careful, to keep my mouth shut."
- The numbers are being hidden and the
Badr, operating out of the Ministry of Interior, which is funded by the
US, are making sure the numbers remain shrouded.
- Yet on Tuesday of this week, a spokesman
at that same hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity of course, announced
that in the last 48 hours alone Yarmouk Hospital had received 65 bodies,
most of them slaughtered by death squads in execution-style murders. That
day they had received 40 bodies, and Monday, 25.
- Iraqis are at far greater risk when they
speak out about the true number of the dead than western journalists. Those
who speak out jeopardize their lives, like Faik Bakir, the director of
the Baghdad morgue. Bakir fled Iraq fearing for his life in early March,
after reporting that over 7,000 people had been killed by death squads
in recent months. In an article in the Guardian on March 2nd, it was made
clear by John Pace, a UN official who worked in Iraq until February, that
"The vast majority of bodies showed signs of summary execution - many
with their hands tied behind their back. Some showed evidence of torture,
with arms and leg joints broken by electric drills." He said that
the killings had been ongoing long before the rampant bloodshed that followed
the bombing of the Shia shrine in Samarra. The article added, "Mr.
Pace, whose contract in Iraq ended last month, said many killings were
carried out by Shia militias linked to the interior ministry run by Bayan
Jabr, a leading figure in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution
in Iraq (Sciri)."
- This past Saturday I received information
from the main morgue in Baghdad from a doctor there, name withheld for
security reasons. "Yesterday we received 36 bodies from the police
pickups. All of them are unknown, without IDs, and we don't have refrigerators
to put them in since all of ours are completely full already. So we had
to keep them on the ground. 12 of them were handcuffed, most of them received
between 2 and 10 bullets, some many more than 10. We are not going to put
them into biopsy. Reason for their death is known. Most of them are between
20 to 30 years This is the number that was brought directly to us in one
day, plus there are the dead who are sent to the hospitals. They will be
put in the hospitals' morgues. We don't receive bodies from hospitals nowadays,
because we don't have a place to keep them. I can't tell the exact number
of killed people now, but it depends on the situation. But what I can assure
you of is that since the shrine explosion, deaths have almost doubled.
Daily, we receive between 70 to 80 bodies you can see within these 40
minutes that I've talked with you, we received 9 bodies. Nearly every morning
the count will be doubled twice this number, for the police find them at
night. Most are either found in the streets or killed without sending them
to hospitals. Four days ago we received 24 bodies in just 2 hours."
- At this same morgue back in June 2004,
I interviewed the aforementioned director, Dr. Faiq Bakir, who had to flee
for his life. He said that their maximum holding capacity with the freezers
was 90 bodies, and since January 2004 an average of well over 600 bodies
each month had been brought there. The cause of death for at least half
of these were gunshots or explosions. He also pointed out that those numbers
did not include the heavy fighting areas of Fallujah and Najaf.
- In addition, he told me, "We deal
only with suspicious deaths, not deaths from natural causes. And so many
bodies are buried that never go to a morgue anywhere."
- According to Dr. Bakir, the rate of bodies
brought to the Baghdad Morgue even back then was 3-4 times greater than
it ever was during the regime of Saddam Hussein. "I am sure that not
all of the bodies that should come here do," he continued before very
diplomatically adding, "Because our legal system has some problems
- Before the invasion, there was a coordinated
system between Baghdad and the other governorates, which allowed his morgue
to track deaths throughout the country, but this too had been smashed along
with the rest of the infrastructure of his country.
- More recently, a doctor at another hospital
shared information which puts this in clearer perspective.
- This past Sunday, a doctor from al-Numan
hospital in the al-Adhamiya district of Baghdad reported to my source in
Baghdad: "Every major hospital has either one or two refrigerators,
depending on the population of the area. As for Adhamiya we have one refrigerator
that holds a maximum of 10 bodies. Meanwhile there are two refrigerators
in the Shula hospital. We have not less than 18 major hospitals inside
Baghdad, in addition to the main morgue, which has 6 refrigerators that
contain 20 bodies each. In the emergencies we use refrigeration trucks
to put bodies inside - this is very familiar to the main morgue. I went
there a week ago. I have seen three refrigeration trucks inside the yard.
They were filled with bodies. They keep the bodies in the main morgue for
not more than 15 days, and if no one asks for them, they send the bodies
to the cemetery administration to deal with them. This administration hands
the bodies to some individuals who will bury them, mostly in Najaf or in
the cemeteries around Baghdad."
- Reuters recently ran a story titled,
"In Baghdad, some killings get noticed, some don't." The story
read, "When gunmen killed a sister of an Iraqi vice president on Thursday,
it grabbed world headlines. A few streets away, however, another slaying,
typical of hundreds in Baghdad in recent weeks, went all but unnoticed.
Indeed it might never have been recorded had 73-year-old Khatab al-Ani
not been shot outside the home of a journalist." The only part of
this I would amend is "in recent weeks," because I know for a
fact that random unreported killings have been the norm in the capital
city of Iraq for over two years now.
- Another Iraqi source of mine works for
an Iraqi relief NGO in Fallujah. He told me that from the April and November
2004 US assaults on Fallujah there were a minimum of 4,500 dead or missing
(most of them dead), and "killings in Fallujah and Ramadi are a daily
reality for us." According to this source, "Doctors in Fallujah
estimate that an average of 3.5 people are being killed in Fallujah every
day during 2006, while doctors we know in Baghdad estimate that the number
there is between 150 and 200 per day."
- He went on to say, "The Lancet reported
over 100,000 killed over a year ago. This was even before many of the crimes
committed by US troops, the Iraqi so-called Army and the Government militias,
who are all first class killers, came to light. This brings the number
to over 200,000 at the least. On the other hand, those people (Bush and
those claiming less than 100,000 dead) not reporting the correct number
of civilian casualties - that is a major crime in itself. It looks like
they don't give a damn how many Iraqi people get killed."
- Even the UN Integrated Regional Information
Networks (IRIN) humanitarian news agency reported on April 26 that "More
than 90 women become widows each day due to continuing violence countrywide,
according to government officials and non-governmental organizations devoted
to women's issues."
- Another extremely telling point in the
IRIN report is that "Although few reliable statistics are available
on the total number of widows in Iraq, the Ministry of Women's Affairs
says that there are at least 300,000 in Baghdad alone, with another eight
million throughout the country." The report said that at least 15
police officers' wives are widowed every day, and that local NGOs in Iraq
said the situation had become much worse since the 2003 US-led invasion
of the country, which has brought horrific violence on a level not seen
- "Saddam Hussein was responsible
for killing thousands of men during his 25 years of brutal rule,"
said Ibtissam Kamal in the IRIN report. Kamal, a member of a local organization
that works on the issue but prefers anonymity of the organization for security
reasons, added, "But more people have died during the past three years,
most of them men "
- The vast majority of deaths in Iraq are
not being counted. Anyone who has spent any time there knows this. It was
and remains common knowledge amongst my colleagues who worked on the streets,
rather than those "embedding" or conducting "hotel journalism."
- Several of my colleagues who have reported
from Iraq feel the number of Iraqis killed during the occupation far exceeds
- "If one counts excess mortality
from collapsed healthcare, polluted water, poverty and the like - at least
100,000 Iraqis have died since the US invaded Iraq," Christian Parenti,
author of the book The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied
Iraq wrote me this week. Parenti, who has reported for over 5 months from
Iraq and is a regularly contributor to The Nation magazine, added, "How
many people have been killed by US troops? How many in sectarian violence?
It's impossible to say, but the point is this: Iraq has been destroyed
by the US invasion and the process of its disintegration will go on for
years. It is a horror no matter what the numbers are."
- David Enders, an American freelance journalist
who has spent 18 months reporting from Iraq and author of the book Baghdad
Bulletin, told me yesterday, "I visited the Baghdad morgue, and they
were receiving between 30-40 bodies every day. That didn't include car
bombs and people who'd died for obvious reasons. That was more than a year
ago, and that was just for Baghdad. I think it's probably safe to say that
well over 100,000 Iraqis have died during the occupation."
- Veteran Middle East correspondent Robert
Fisk writes for the Independent in the UK and has reported from the region
for over 30 years. He had this to say in a piece written on March 20th
titled, "The Iraq War: Three Years On - The march of folly that has
led to a bloodbath":
- "The Iraqis? Well, they are lesser
beings whose casualties cannot be revealed to us by the Iraqi ministry
of health, on orders from the Americans and British; creatures whose suffering,
far greater than our own, must be submerged in the democracy and freedom
in which we are drowning them; whose casualties "more or less"
[mocking the infamous quote from George W. Bush] are probably nearer to
150,000. After all, if 1,000 Iraqis could die by violence last July - in
Baghdad alone; and if they are being killed at 60 or 70 a day, then we
have a near genocidal bloodbath on our hands. Iraqis, however, are now
our Untermenschen for whom, frankly, we do not greatly care."
- By far and away the survey that comes
closest to the true number of dead in Iraq to date was the one conducted
for the Lancet. Yet even Les Roberts, the lead author of that report and
one of the world's top epidemiologists with the Center for International
Emergency Disaster and Refugee Studies at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School
of Public Health, said this February that there might be as many as 300,000
Iraqi civilian deaths generated by the US invasion and occupation. So as
not to skew the results, it is important to note that the survey did not
include areas where major combat had occurred such as Fallujah, Najaf,
and Sadr City - home to roughly three million Iraqis.
- Any news agency, government, or other
organization reporting anything less are actively attempting to hide the
level of slaughter and mayhem and thus aiding and abetting the ongoing
war crimes in Iraq.
- My aforementioned friend in Fallujah
is both frustrated and angry that most news agencies choose not to report
the number of dead in Iraq more accurately. "I know there are some
organizations who claim that they have an accurate count, which is less
than 40,000 dead Iraqis," he wrote me recently. He went on to reference
Bush Junior, "And as if that number itself isn't shameful enough for
the US and the whole world to see. Anyone claiming that low number who
calls himself a humanitarian is a shameful guy." we leave civilian
dead as litter in the streets ignored by us their numbers unmarked as are
their names - Labi Siffre
- Anyone who's been in a war zone knows
what it feels like to lie in bed at night listening to the cracking of
gunfire, or the sound of thudding bombs. Knowing that each report means
death or maiming. It is true that the dead do not talk, but each shot fired
or bomb detonated means someone is dead, and the killers know and must
live with that knowledge forever - that they have killed a human being.
- And we cannot escape that knowledge either.
- Not hearing the sounds of death, but
knowing that somewhere this instant in Iraq is a family that will have
to suffer a loss in perpetuity. Your silence will not protect you - Audre
- Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist
who spent over 8 months reporting from occupied Iraq. He presented evidence
of US war crimes in Iraq at the International Commission of Inquiry on
Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York
City in January 2006. He writes regularly for TruthOut, Inter Press Service,
Asia Times and TomDispatch, and maintains his own web site, dahrjamailiraq.com.