Body Count in Baghdad Nearly Triples

Coffin maker Abbas Hussein Mohammed opened a new shop in Baghdad to cope with rising demand. Last month the capital's morgue received 1,536 victims of violence.
Coffin maker Abbas Hussein Mohammed opened a new shop in Baghdad to cope with rising demand. Last month the capital's morgue received 1,536 victims of violence. (By Khalid Mohammed -- Associated Press)

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By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 8, 2006

BAGHDAD, Sept. 7 -- Baghdad's morgue almost tripled its count for violent deaths in Iraq's capital during August from 550 to 1,536, authorities said Thursday, appearing to erase most of what U.S. generals and Iraqi leaders had touted as evidence of progress in a major security operation to restore order in the capital.

Separately, the Health Ministry confirmed Thursday that it planned to construct two new branch morgues in Baghdad and add doctors and refrigerator units to raise capacity to as many as 250 corpses a day.

The morgue expansion plans and the final body count for August show the dramatic surge in violence in Baghdad since U.S.-led foreign troops entered Iraq in 2003. Baghdad's morgue chiefly handles unidentified gunshot victims, now predominantly shot execution-style and often found with hands bound and showing signs of torture.

Since the spring, as sectarian violence has mounted, monthly counts of civilian casualties have reached the highest levels of the war, topping 1,800 at the Baghdad morgue in July. At least 3,438 Iraqis were killed across the country that month, according to Iraqi government figures, nearing the total of roughly 5,000 for the entire first year of the war.

In 2002, before U.S.-led forces entered Iraq, the Baghdad morgue averaged 15 shooting victims a month, morgue officials have said.

Gianni Magazzeni, chief of the U.N. human rights office in Iraq, which tracks casualty figures from Iraq's government, confirmed Thursday that the government-run Baghdad morgue had reported 1,536 dead for August.

Bombing victims and many others who die violently in Baghdad are taken to the city's hospitals rather than the morgue. The figures announced Thursday do not include those killings, or killings outside Baghdad and its surrounding towns. A complete countrywide toll is due from the Health Ministry later this month.

At the end of August, Baghdad's morgue initially reported receiving 550 bodies during the month. U.S. military and Iraqi government officials hailed what they said was a massive decrease in violence, calling it a sign of the success of Operation Forward Together. The joint U.S.-Iraqi security push had placed at least four of Baghdad's most violent neighborhoods under cordons and search operations, which were welcomed by many residents as bringing a relief from violence.

The U.S. military had called in units from Germany and Kuwait and postponed the scheduled return home of an Alaska-based unit for the bid to return peace to Iraq's capital in the fourth year of the U.S. occupation. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called it the Battle of Baghdad and said it was essential that American forces win it, although U.S. commanders cautioned that the work would take months rather than weeks.

By late August, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell was claiming a 46 percent decrease in the murder rate in Baghdad for that month. "We are actually seeing progress," Caldwell said at the time. A U.S. military Web site on Thursday continued to assert a roughly 50 percent drop in killings in Baghdad.

A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, said Thursday that the U.S. figures were based on the military's "consolidated reporting with the Iraqi government." Johnson also disclosed that the military's numbers included only "individuals targeted as a result of sectarian-related violence, to include executions," and did not include "other violent acts such as car bombs and mortars."

Johnson said he did not track the morgue's figures and could not account for the substantial gap between the military's count for August killings and the latest figures from Baghdad's morgue.


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