Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Death Gallops the Streets of Iraq

Everyday, women mill about crying outside the courtyard of Baghdad's Institute of Forensic Medicine at Bab al Muadam Square, so overcome with grief that they are unable to stand. The men stand grim and silent, the sleepless nights showing on their faces. But behind the doors of, the day is just beginning as the daily toll of postwar Iraq's crime wave gets counted.

Coroners have to work overtime these days to keep up with the stream of bodies that comes through the everyday. Five coroners distributed along the five benches of the morgue are barely able to keep up. More than ten corpses lay around in the room as if they were in an abattoir, with chairs for students to study the place and the events taking place there. About 10 autopsies a day are completed here as partially decomposed bodies pile up on autopsy tables and along the office floors awaiting final approval for burial. From the outside, the smell of the room is enough to make one retch; inside the stench is simply overwhelming.

"Neither during the war nor during the previous two wars has this happened," said Dr. Qais Hassan Salman, a specialist in forensic medicine at the Institute. "The number of dead is absolutely unbelievable, and I'm just speaking of Baghdad alone. God knows what's happening elsewhere." Coalition officials have claimed that Baghdad's crime rates are comparable to any major US city. But in fact, judging by coroner's reports, the Iraqi capital's homicide rate exceeds that of even the most violent American cities several times over. Even before the war began, Baghdad was one of the most dangerous places to live in the world. This year's records mark more than a doubling in violent deaths.


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