October 19, 2004

How Many Iraqis Are Dying? By One Count, 208 in a Week


New York Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 18 - It began with the killing of two Iraqi civilians in a suicide bomb attack against an American military convoy in the northern city of Mosul last Monday. It ended Sunday evening, when a car bomb killed seven Iraqi police officers and civilians at a Baghdad cafe where police officers had apparently broken their fast during this month of Ramadan.

A weeklong effort to tally Iraqi casualties shows soldiers, insurgents, politicians, journalists, a judge, a medic and restaurant workers among the victims. They included Dina Mohammed Hassan, a television reporter killed by three men who called her a collaborator, and Ali Hussein's son and nephew, nighttime guards who died when Americans bombed a restaurant in Falluja.

From Oct. 11 to Oct. 17, an estimated 208 Iraqis were killed in war-related incidents, significantly higher than the average week; 23 members of the United States military died over the same period.

The deaths of Iraqis, particularly those of civilians, has become an increasingly delicate topic. Early this month, the Health Ministry, which had routinely provided casualty figures to journalists, stopped releasing them. Under a new policy that the government said would streamline the release of the figures - which were clearly an embarrassment to the government as well as to the Americans - only the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers is now allowed to do so.

"It's a political issue," a senior Health Ministry official said last week.

This account was pieced together from partial tallies by the Iraqi government, reporting by Iraqi employees of The New York Times stationed in Falluja, Mosul and Najaf, and counts from hospitals, news agencies and the American military.

The tally remains imprecise and does not fully answer many of the most charged questions about the war. How can civilians be distinguished from insurgents? How can contradictory accounts of the same death be reconciled?

According to a report by the Health Ministry, which last April began compiling figures for all regions except the Kurdish north, 3,040 Iraqis were killed in war-related incidents during the 22 weeks from April 5 to Sept. 6 - a little more than 138 deaths a week. The dead included 2,753 men, 159 women and 128 children. There are no agreed figures for civilian deaths in Iraq over all since the war began in early 2003, but the best estimates, by private groups and independent news organizations, place the figure in the 10,000 to 15,000 range.

While many Iraqis blame American airstrikes and other military actions for taking the lives of innocents, they also believe that foreign fighters are behind the suicide attacks that tend to kill more Iraqis than Americans.

The United States military emphasizes that the targets of its actions have been insurgents, and it also blames them for other deaths and damage that result from such raids.

Last Thursday, on the same day that American jets intensified their bombardment of Falluja, thought to be the base of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant suspected of leading many anti-American attacks, the United States military released a statement that read in part: "A top priority is to avoid harming civilians and causing damage. However, by operating and hiding among civilians, the terrorists endanger innocent civilians and are directly responsible for any harm to the women and children they hide behind."

The Secretariat of the Council of Ministers gave only partial figures for last week, releasing the numbers for only four days and mostly for Baghdad and the nearby cities. Of course, casualty figures tend to vary greatly depending on their source. On the first day of the seven-day period, 12 Iraqis were reported killed, including in the Mosul suicide attack. The other deaths took place in the three locations that proved the deadliest over the week: Falluja and Ramadi, where American forces have been engaged in combat, and Baghdad.

On a highway outside Falluja, five passengers in one car were killed in an incident involving American soldiers.

According to residents and hospital officials, the five - Kadhim Ahmed Hussein and his two sons, Jawad and Dhiya; and Layla Awad and her son Ali Khalaf - were driving from the Lake Habbaniya area, where they had sought shelter during the ongoing fighting, to check on their houses in Falluja.

According to the United States military, the car approached a checkpoint at a location that an American patrol had cordoned off.

Because the driver ignored warnings to stop even as the patrol received fire from elsewhere, the soldiers fired on the car. People in Falluja, however, said the five were shot without provocation.

On Tuesday, 46 Iraqis were reported killed. Just after midnight, an American warplane flattened Falluja's most popular restaurant, Hajji Hussein, famous for its kebabs. The military said it was a meeting place for terrorists and was no longer frequented by ordinary people. Ali Hussein, the owner, said his son and nephew, who had been working as nighttime guards, were killed in the strike.

He denied that insurgents came to the restaurant, which was founded by his father.

"This is a well-known restaurant in midtown," Mr. Hussein said. "We have a lot of people always going in and out. No one can hide in here. We are on the main street. How could there be any Zarqawi people inside?"

The largest number, at least 15, were reportedly killed in an attack against an Iraqi National Guard outpost near Qaim, along the border with Syria. Many Iraqi insurgents are believed to be based on the other side of the border and to receive support from Syrians.

On Wednesday, 10 people were reportedly killed, including a police captain in Baquba, 35 miles northeast of here.

Thursday, with 58 reported deaths, was the week's deadliest day and was also punctuated by suicide bombs inside the Green Zone, the site of the American Embassy and Iraqi government ministries.

Many Iraqis regarded by insurgents as collaborating with the Americans or the United States-backed government have been assassinated, and several were killed Thursday.

South of here near Latifiya, Kamel al-Yassiri, an official with the secular National Democratic Coalition Party, was gunned down while driving on a highway; he was buried in Najaf the next day. In Mosul, a photographer who has worked for Western news organizations, Karam Hussein, 22, was gunned down outside his home.

In Baghdad, a judge was shot to death while leaving his home for work; around the same time, Ms. Hassan, 38, a reporter for the Kurdish television network Al Huriya, was also killed.

She had received three letters warning her to quit her job, said colleagues who were waiting to pick up her body outside the city morgue. She joined the network nine months ago after long working at the Ministry of Information, they said.

"We used to joke to her that she should use the money she had saved to fix her teeth and get married," said a colleague, Naseer al-Timimy. "But because she was an orphan, she felt she needed to hold on to her money."

On Thursday morning, as she and a colleague waited outside her apartment building for a company van, a blue Oldsmobile with three men pulled up in front of them, according to the account of the colleague, who survived. One of the men shot at her with a Kalashnikov and, after she fell on her back, shot her again in the face. "Collaborator! Collaborator!" the gunman is said to have yelled.

"You could no longer recognize her features," said Ahmed al-Hamdani, a colleague who saw her minutes after the shooting.

On Friday, the first day of Ramadan, though many had feared a surge in violence similar to the one last year, there were fewer deaths than on Thursday, with 24 people killed. Of those, 10 civilians died after a car bomb aimed at an Iraqi police patrol exploded in Baghdad.

The dead included four laborers working in a nearby palm grove, two bystanders and a family of four inside a car, according to the American military.

On Saturday and Sunday, 31 and 27 deaths were recorded, respectively. The largest number of victims were police officers, who have been attacked with deadly frequency by insurgents, who accuse them of supporting the Americans.

On Saturday, nine police recruits returning from a training course in Jordan were ambushed near Latifiya. Then on Sunday evening, seven police officers and civilians were killed here after a car bomb went off outside a cafe popular with police officers, bringing an end to a deadly week in Iraq.

Iraqi employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Mosul, Falluja and Najaf for this article.