Interview between John Humphrys (chief anchor man) and Hamit Dardagan

BBC Today Programme. Radio 4. 6.55 a.m. Wednesday 19th May 2004.

HUMPHRYS: One of the big areas of contention since the war began in Iraq is that the Occupying Forces have not bothered to keep a count of the number of Iraqi civilians killed. The Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told me yesterday on this programme that he had done his best to provide an estimate.

Recording: Straw. "I gave answers to a Parliamentary Question on this. I went into it in a great deal of detail. We've made use of NGO estimates, and others, but the last estimate which I gave in answer to a Parliamentary Question, and I speak from recollection but I'm happy to have this checked, was about ten thousand. That was about three months ago, and I'm happy to provide you and Parliament with the latest estimate."

Well that surprised some of the voluntary organisations who themselves have been trying to arrive at a figure. With me is Hamit Dradagan from the Iraqi Body Count Project. He is a co-founder of that. Why were you surprised Mr Dardagan?

DARDAGAN: Well, because up to now the Ministry has always said that it is very difficult to get a count, and every time they have been asked for an estimate we’ve just been told how difficult it all is, and we’ve never actually received a number. So it is a change, actually. Now that he’s actually provided us with that number I hope he’ll also go further and provide details of what the methodology was and where they actually obtained it from.

HUMPHRYS: Because why, you think they may have just taken the figures from… well, he conceded that they’ve taken the figures from the NGOs, non-governmental organisations.

DARDAGAN: Well that’s possible, but so I think he promised here that he would actually provide further details and the latest update, so let’s hope he does that.

But even so it’s only half of a very important equation. On the eve of the war Tony Blair said in Parliament that Saddam Hussein would be responsible for many many more deaths even in one year than we will be in any conflict. So now we know the number they think actually died as a result of the conflict. Now we need to know what they actually thought was going to be killed by Saddam in that year.

HUMPHRYS: But that figure he gave, about 10,000 is not a million miles from your own figures.

DARDAGAN: Yes, but he did say that was only in the occupation phase, and also implied that it seemed to be to a large extent insurgents and so-on whereas our count has been of the non-combatants.

HUMPHRYS: So let’s be clear about what your figures say.

DARDAGAN: Well we have between 9,000 and 11,000, and that’s really only up to the end of March,

HUMPHRYS: So it doesn’t include Fallujah …

DARDAGAN: It doesn’t yet, no, and so its likely to be quite a bit higher fairly soon.

HUMPHRYS: And you’ve arrived at those figures how?

DARDAGAN: We obtain our figures from media reports. We collate these, check them, make sure that they are corroborated, and make sure that we don’t perform any double counting. It takes us a while to actually produce the numbers.

HUMPHRYS: Does it really matter that the occupying forces don’t produce their own numbers so long as somebody is doing it?

DARDAGAN: I think it does matter actually because us, for example, we’re reliant on the media, and unless you believe that the media is all-seeing and all-knowing, many things must be happening that are never reported, and so it’s really the responsibility of the government in the country to actually produce those figures.

HUMPHRYS: So you’ll be knocking on Mr Straw’s door?

DARDAGAN: We will, yes.

HUMPHRYS: Mr Dardagan, thank you very much

DARDAGAN: Thank you.