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Iraqi official: War has claimed 150,000 civilians

The surprising estimate from Iraq's health minister is much larger than more commonly accepted estimates of 45,000 to 50,000 civilian deaths.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published November 10, 2006


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BAGHDAD - A stunning potential new death count emerged Thursday, as Iraq's health minister estimated 150,000 civilians have been killed in the war - about three times more than previously accepted estimates.

Moderate Sunni Muslims, meanwhile, threatened to walk away from politics and pick up guns, while the Shiite-dominated government renewed pressure on the United States to unleash the Iraqi army and claimed it could crush violence in six months.

Previous estimates of Iraq deaths held that 45,000 to 50,000 have been killed in the nearly 44-month-old conflict, according to partial figures from Iraqi institutions and media reports. No official count has ever been available.

Health Minister Ali al-Shemari gave his new estimate of 150,000 to reporters during a visit to Vienna. He later told the Associated Press that he based the figure on an estimate of 100 bodies per day brought to morgues and hospitals - though such a calculation would come out closer to 130,000 in total.

"It is an estimate," Shemari said. He blamed Sunni insurgents, Wahhabis - Sunni religious extremists - and criminal gangs for the deaths.

Hassan Salem of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, said the 150,000 figure included civilians, police and the bodies of people who were abducted, later found dead and collected at morgues run by the Health Ministry. SCIRI is Iraq's largest Shiite political organization and holds the largest number of seats in Parliament.

In October, the British medical journal The Lancet published a controversial study contending nearly 655,000 Iraqis have died because of the war - a far higher death toll than other estimates. The study, which was dismissed by President Bush and other U.S. officials as not credible, was based on interviews of households and not a body count.

Shemari disputed that figure Thursday.

"Since 3½ years, since the change of the Saddam regime, some people say we have 600,000 are killed. This is an exaggerated number. I think (150,000) is okay," he said.

Accurate figures on the number of people who have died in the Iraq conflict have long been the subject of debate. Police and hospitals often give widely conflicting figures of those killed in major bombings. In addition, death figures are reported through multiple channels by government agencies that function with varying efficiency.

As Shemari issued the startling new estimate, the head of the Baghdad central morgue said Thursday he was receiving as many as 60 violent death victims each day at his facility alone. Dr. Abdul-Razzaq al-Obaidi said those deaths did not include victims of violence whose bodies were taken to the city's many hospital morgues or those who were removed from attack scenes by relatives and quickly buried according to Muslim custom.

Obaidi said the morgue had received 1,600 violent death victims in October, one of the bloodiest months of the conflict. U.S. forces suffered 105 deaths last month, the fourth highest monthly toll.

Shemari, while not explaining the death toll estimate, was more precise about the government's increasingly public and insistent demands for a speedier U.S. transfer of authority to Iraqi forces and the withdrawal of American troops to their bases and from Iraq's cities and towns.

"The army of America didn't do its job. ... They tie the hands of my government," said Shemari, a Shiite.

Shemari is a controversial figure and a member of the movement of radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Some U.S. officials have said that the ministry has diverted supplies to al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

[Last modified November 10, 2006, 01:52:07]


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