Iraqi officials demanded to know yesterday why so little international attention was being given to their numerous dead as the US mourned the death of 1,000 soldiers since the invasion of Iraq.
“When I heard on television that the Americans had lost 1,000 military killed in Iraq, I asked myself, what about our side? What is the number of Iraqis who have died?” said Dr Amer al-Khuzaie, an Iraqi deputy health minister. He admits it is impossible to know the true figure because many bodies are simply buried and the deaths never registered. “Sometimes there are as many as 200 Iraqis killed in a single day,” sighed Dr Khuzaie, flicking through a file showing the casualty figures. “The Iraqi people are being eradicated. We must stop this haemorrhage, this bleeding.”
The US army does not count the number of Iraqis killed since the invasion in March 2003. The most conservative figure for the number dead is 10,000 as calculated by private groups. It is rising every day. The US military claimed that on Tuesday alone it killed “100 militants” in air strikes on Fallujah on top of a further 33 people killed in fighting in Sadr City in Baghdad. Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, proudly claimed on Tuesday that US forces had, last month, killed between 1,500 and 2,500 Iraqi insurgents. He did not note an ominous trend that, for the first time, more Americans were probably killed by Shia fighters than by Sunni guerrillas. For the US, it is now a war on two fronts.
Iraqis suspect that in any case many of those who died were civilians.
Dr Khuzaie admits that poor communications make it impossible to get a complete picture but he estimates that “in Najaf 400 civilians were killed and 2,500 wounded in the fighting last month.”
There are many ways to die in Iraq. At the al-Khindi hospital yesterday, doctors were treating one of their own workers called Ihsan Aboud, 32, who had gone home in a taxi to Sadr City the night before. “There was a roadside bomb,” explained his cousin Sabah Thigil. “It blew up as the taxi passed and two people in it were killed and Ihsan was badly burned.”
Asked if the wounded man would live, a doctor gestured with his hand to show that his life was in the balance. “Even when there is nothing much happening, we get 15 to 20 people a day brought in who are victims of violence,” said Dr Yassin Mustafa, an assistant manager of the hospital. “Often people do not know who shot them or blew them up.”
In the close-packed heavily populated houses of Sadr City, home to two million people, the use of rockets and heavy machineguns by the US inflicts heavy casualties. The mortars of the ill-trained Mehdi Army militiamen are often misdirected. Dr Mustafa had just received seven bodies, all from a single family, hit by a mortar bomb.
He pointed out that, at this time of year, casualties were particularly severe because those in poorer neighbourhoods sleep on the roofs of their houses because it is cooler. As they lie sleeping, they are often killed or wounded by shrapnel or stray bullets.
People in Baghdad have learned caution. Often there are long traffic jams because cars do not want to go near a slowly moving American convoy, a possible target of a massive bomb buried beside the road or a rocket-propelled grenade. The Americans also have a much-feared practice of spraying fire in all directions when they come under attack.
Suicide bombers show total disregard for civilian casualties and assassins are equally careless of who they kill. On Tuesday, an attempt to kill the Governor of Baghdad Ali al-Haidri almost succeeded but a bomb hit the wrong car. A man and a women were killed by the blast. Iraq is not just a dangerous place to live because of political violence. Unicef estimated in the 1990s that 500,000 children had died because of the collapse of health standards. Infant mortality rose from 40 per 1,000 in 1990, before the 1991 Gulf War, to 108, 13 years later according to the World Health Organisation.
Public health has not improved since the invasion last year. A main reason is unclean water. Dr Bashar, a senior house surgeon at al-Kindi, said: “Look around you. Baghdad is the dirtiest city in the world.”