That was in September of 2004. And one thing to point out: at the time, Iraq was pretty well known for its record-keeping. You know, there are some countries where you can’t depend on records at all. But there was a real, I don’t know, commitment to details, and to records, and to being accurate in the record-keeping. So I felt really comfortable going with their numbers. The Iraqi health ministry is sort of an objective group that has no incentive to taint the numbers one way or the other at the time. I mean these were statisticians, they weren’t politicians. So, I felt it was important to import [into an article on civilian casualties published on September 24, 2004] what they had recorded, based on their information. They weren’t doing it haphazardly.
I wanted to keep following it, but I’ve gone back, oh, maybe four or five times since, and they will not release numbers on their records of Iraqis killed by coalition forces. And no one else has ever reported that number. There’ve been reports of civilians killed, but never that breakdown. Well, [the official at the health ministry] hinted at [why]. He said, “I’m not allowed to release them. I got in trouble, it caused a lot of problems, it went all the way up to the health ministry. You know, the top levels of the government went crazy and were upset about these numbers being released.”
Knight Ridder (McClatchy)
We haven’t been aggressive enough in having our home bases petition the Pentagon and the administration to reveal these [civilian casualty] figures. They keep them, we know they keep them and we have some partial figures released from time to time or somebody’s been leaked something. But I think it’s shameful that they have the figures and won’t release them.
And I just don’t understand why. I’m a firm believer in “the key to p.r. is honesty, honesty, honesty,” so why not say, “Look, here they are. War is bloody. There’s going to be civilian casualties. Here’s what they are. We’ll give it to you month to month.” And then it wouldn’t be this big scary unknown, where you have all these wild speculations that range from hundreds of thousands to a few thousand. And, I think even what they have is not a complete picture, but at least it would be a starting point. And I think it would work to [the military’s] advantage because it would be far smaller than some of these estimates that have been put out there.
Iraqis don’t keep their money in banks because after the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam closed the banks, and when they reopened, people found that instead of the dinar being, whatever it was, one to three dollars to the dinar, that they were getting two thousand dinars to the dollar. After that they generally kept their money at home, and in hundred dollar bills. So often Iraqi houses have a surprising amount of cash in them, but this is the total savings of an extended family. Like anywhere else in the world where people keep large sums of money in their house, they are afraid of someone stealing it.
So if you knock on their door at two in the morning, they’re likely to answer it, and they’re all armed with guns. The U.S. military didn’t seem to realize this, so when the door was answered by an Iraqi with a gun, he was often shot dead — totally innocent farmers or businessmen or whatever. This created an enormous outrage at the time.
A country doesn’t want to believe that an army they sent overseas, their brothers and sons and fathers, have done bad things. It’s very hard to get the home country to accept that fact. And that’s not just in America. You see this in other places that have sent armies places. Every time there is a war, a nation goes in here with the whole mythology, and the whole rationale. It’s very difficult to work in anything that contradicts the mythology.
The Christian Science Monitor
The moment of Abu Ghraib [the photos of abuses were made public in April 2004] reinforced in [the Iraqi] mind all those rumors, all those prejudices — all those concerns that they weren’t certain were true but might have been, they now became very, very real. And whether they were real or not, the fact that they were real in Abu Ghraib — that those kind of abuses and those kind of events took place — all of a sudden made, in many Iraqi minds, every single abuse a real thing.