Sum of Death Statistics: a Perilous Iraq
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
BAGHDAD, April 3 -- On a two-day visit to Iraq, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) declared after a short walk in a market that Baghdad was becoming safer under a new security plan. But after his departure, Iraqi merchants and U.S. military officials said his upbeat assessment is far from the reality they experience every day.
McCain, who left Iraq on Monday but remained in the region, also said that "things are getting better in Iraq" and that he was "pleased with the progress that has been made," although he cautioned that there was still a difficult road ahead. However, new morgue statistics obtained by The Washington Post paint a more complicated picture and underscore the country's precarious security environment.
"This is the most dangerous area," Ahmad al-Aghaedi, the owner of a small shop that sells light fixtures in the city's Shorja market, which McCain visited, said on Tuesday. "There are snipers everywhere. Just three days ago, before the delegation arrived, they shot someone."
U.S. and Iraqi forces launched the security offensive in February. In March, violent deaths dropped in Baghdad, according to Iraqi morgue and police statistics. But violence rose elsewhere in Iraq, fueled largely by suicide bombings.
In March, a total of 2,762 Iraqi civilians and policemen were killed, down 4 percent from the previous month, when 2,864 were killed.
The number of Iraqi policemen killed across Iraq nearly doubled from 171 in February to 331 in March, according to Interior Ministry statistics. Meanwhile, the numbers of unidentified bodies found across Baghdad are rising again, suggesting an increase in sectarian-motivated death squad killings.
In the first three weeks of the security plan, from Feb. 14 to March 7, 125 unidentified bodies were reported. But in the next three weeks, ending March 31, they nearly doubled to 230, according to the morgue data.
Statistics are often inexact here, with several ministries handing out different sets of data. Citing a security official who collected data from the Defense, Health and Interior ministries, the Reuters news agency, for example, reported this week that a smaller number of people had been killed, 2,078, which it said represented a 15 percent rise over February.
U.S. and Iraqi officials said in interviews that while U.S. and Iraqi forces have focused their security efforts largely on Baghdad, violence is spreading to other parts of Iraq, and that they have noticed a rise in sectarian killings in recent weeks.
A U.S. military official on Tuesday described McCain's comments about Baghdad's safety as "a bit of hyperbole."
"Sectarian-motivated killings were down sharply at the beginning of last month, though they have spiked a bit lately," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "Things are indeed better in Baghdad, for now. It's just a very fragile situation that could turn at any moment."
"It could keep on like this for the foreseeable future and there would be a chance to make some progress, and there could be a catastrophic event that negates all of our progress. It's just hard to say."