Friday, March 03, 2006

Guns and Silence

Earlier in the week, I linked to a Washington Post article which clamied that sectarian viloence had killed 1,300 Iraqis in the week following the bombing of the al-Askari shrine. The Iraqi government was quick to play down those figures and released a much lower official count. It seemed that the Washington Post may have been mistaken.

But this article throws new light on the situation.
Human rights abuses in Iraq are as bad now as they were under Saddam Hussein, as lawlessness and sectarian violence sweep the country, the former U.N. human rights chief in Iraq said Thursday.

John Pace, who last month left his post as director of the human rights office at the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, said the level of extra-judicial executions and torture is soaring, and morgue workers are being threatened by both government-backed militia and insurgents not to properly investigate deaths.
And this one.
An international official in Baghdad who is familiar with the tabulation of the death toll said Thursday that roughly 1,000 people were killed between the day of the bombing and Monday, when the government lifted a curfew imposed to stem the violence.

The international official, who spoke on condition he not be identified further, said the figure came from morgue officials and others before the government announced a much lower toll.

He said morgue officials and others acceded to the reduced official count because they feared the militias, the death squads and the government. "They're afraid," the official said.
The acting director of the morgue, Qais Hassan, also denied The Post's figure. "That's a lie," he said of the number on Thursday.

Hassan began running the morgue when the director, Faik Bakir, fled the country a few months ago after being threatened over the release of morgue information seen as linking many killings to death squads, officials said.
The morgue officials are as vulnerable to the power of the militias as everyone else in Baghdad. It's not hard to work out why reporters attempting to corroborate the Washington Post story got nowhere. Men with guns, who know where you live and where you work, are extremely persuasive.

These reports on the power of the militias exactly match those documented by Peter Oborne last year. The ordinary people of Iraq are unable to speak out about the power and influence of the militias because they live in fear of them. Through fear, the violent activities of the militias have been suppressed.

Western reporters rarely venture far from the green zone and even when they do, those Iraqis who would speak out would then risk putting themselves in enormous danger. There is much happening in Iraq which we simply do not know about. And yet, some people continue to suggest that the Western media are presenting an exaggerated picture of the scale and severity of the violence and instability in Iraq. It is simply not true. We get glimpses of it through the fog of war. Nothing more.

Yesterday. Today.

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