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The following Radio Free Iraq interview (Arabic) with IBC co-founder Hamit Dardagan (HD in the text) was prompted by an AP report on unofficially released Iraqi government figures, based on death certificates, for violent deaths since Jan 2005.

In this first IBC interview with a radio station broadcasting in Arabic to an Iraqi audience, HD focused on the benefits of detailed documentation, and open and transparent records of who was killed, as the best way to arrive at a locally verifiable consensus on how many have died.

نص المقابلة باللغة العربية

Radio Free Iraq interview with IBC

First broadcast 24 Apr 2009

Presenter: Dear listeners, we would like to welcome you to the Iraq file and its highlights for today: [Starts highlights/headlines with IBC]

A source in the Iraqi government reveals statistics on victims of violence in Iraq since 2005.

The Associated Press news agency has released figures of Iraqis killed [in Iraq] as a result of violence since 2005. The agency based its figures on Iraqi government statistics that it obtained from a source within the government whom it did not name. The number of killed was put at 87,215, which the Iraqi source said does not include the thousands of missing whose families hastily buried without notifying the relevant authorities given the prevailing chaotic circumstances.

In general, the figures of those killed [in Iraq] since 2003 are unclear as authorities are not often willing to easily disclose such information. The figures released by the Iraqi government only include those killed as a result of acts of violence, such as killings, bombings, mortar attacks, beheadings, etc. They do not include figures of those who lost their lives because of health conditions and sicknesses/ diseases that were a direct or indirect result of the war, and such cases are in thousands.

Because of the vagueness shrouding the numbers of killed and victimized in Iraq, Western NGOs, such as the Iraq Body Count (IBC) group, have been trying to record such cases depending on open sources such as newspapers/media, statements of officials, official documents, and figures released by health authorities. Hamit Dardagan is one of the founders of this agency (IBC) which is based in Britain. In a special interview he gave to Radio Free Iraq, Mr. Dardagan welcomed the release of such statistics yet stressed that the inclusion of relevant information such as names, types of incidents, locations, dates, etc. are much more important and useful than figures alone.

HD (translated into Arabic by voiceover interpreter): The fact that these figures are based on death certificates means that there are names. This in turn means that the Iraqi government can release them on a website on the Internet so that families and relatives may know the fate of their killed. I think one of existing problems is the general tendency to talk about the numbers of killed without specifying their names, type of incident that led to their killing, or any official documentation that may allow those concerned to verify their (victims) deaths.

Presenter: The IBC has been recording the number of Iraqis killed since 2003. The figures it has gathered range between 92,000 and 100,000 approximately. These figures do not include Iraqi soldiers and police killed in combat or military operations. IBC official Hamit Dardagan, however, noticed that the figures of the Iraqi government statistics included such security and military personnel, who were for instance kidnapped, tortured and killed. Mr. Dardagan also noticed that while the figures of the Iraqi report were unsurprising, the number of killed in 2007, according to the Iraqi report, was smaller than that recorded by the IBC.

HD: So these figures are what we would have expected to see. An interesting point, however, is that the figures for 2007 are smaller than those we had recorded. The difference is not that big, but it would be useful nevertheless to discover the reason behind it.

Presenter: It is noteworthy that the Iraqi [gov.] statistics indicate that the number of killed for the years 2006 and 2007 which had witnessed the highest rate of violence in Iraq since the start of the war is 60,000.

Counting the number of killed in Iraq is a tough job to do because of various difficult circumstances. One of the difficulties indicated by Mr. Dardagan is that of the unidentified bodies:

HD: One of the terrible and painful things that has been happening in Iraq for a long time now is the finding of unidentified bodies or decomposed bodies and remains that do not allow identification. Such bodies and remains are often buried in mass graves in Najaf or other places. Some of the killed in these cases are considered missing as long as their families do not know what became of their loved ones.

Presenter: The IBC official also referred to bodies that are being found in mass graves. They belong to those killed since the war. He expected that more such mass graves will be found in the future. Finally, Mr. Dardagan called for the release of the greatest amount of information possible in relation to the killed, saying it's the only way to get accurate numbers.

HD: The only way to get to some kind of resolution, or agreement, on the numbers killed is through releasing and sharing as much information as possible. For example, instead of releasing annual figures that cover all areas [in Iraq], it may be better, for instance, for every province to release its own figures monthly. It is of course better and more useful that such figures are accompanied with dates, time, types of incidents, and names. This is the only way people can verify who has been killed, just by looking at these lists.

Presenter (concluding): Iraqis in general wonder if they will ever know the true numbers of victims of violence and war, but not only the 2003 war but those that preceded it, not to mention the victims of the previous regime.

(Translation by Mina Al-Lami)