Iraq Statistics: Behind the Numbers

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The bodies of 16 men are discovered in Baghdad Thursday, while an average of 50 bodies riddled with bullets show up at Baghdad's main morgue every day. Staggering statistics mark the Iraq conflict: the growing numbers of kidnappings, murders and bombings that mark day-to-day life in the country.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Every day on this program and other news programs we hear the grim statistics from Iraq. Here are some of the figures of the past few days. The bodies of 16 men were discovered with their hands tied behind their backs in Baghdad. Some had been repeatedly stabbed. Others had been beheaded, according to one report. Two Iraqi reporters were kidnapped while on their way back from a news conference. One U.S. Marine and four American soldiers were killed in attacks in Baghdad and Fallujah. Well, today we're going to take a closer look at numbers like these and what lies behind them.

Here's NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro, from Baghdad.

LOURDES GARCIA NAVARRO reporting:

In Iraq, statistics are not hard to come by. But figuring out what they mean is another matter. This is an excerpt of today's U.S. military briefing, given by Major General Rick Lynch, spokesman for coalition forces. He's talking here about attacks on American troops, Iraqi troops and civilians.

Major General RICK LYNCH (Coalition Spokesman): The month of January had about 1,600 casualties. If you look at November, December and January, all three of those months had total numbers of casualties 1,000 less than the month of October, and less than half of the amount of casualties that we had last May.

GARCIA NAVARRO: The U.S. military has said it does not keep track of noncombatants it may have killed in its own operations. Also, on average, 50 bodies riddled with bullets show up at Baghdad's main morgue every day, the result, it seems, of the increasing sectarian violence.

(Soundbite of unidentified man speaking in foreign language)

GARCIA NAVARRO: In turn, at a recent press conference given by the main Sunni political party, these numbers were offered up. 300 Shiite and Sunni clerics have been killed, the spokesman said. 1,659 people are missing at the hands of the Ministry of Interior, the Americans, or unknown groups wearing government uniforms. 500 clerics have been detained by the Americans and the Iraqi government, he goes on to say. Again, it's hard to know where these figures come from or how reliable they are.

Still, however confusing these varying numbers may be, they are the dry bones of a violence that has its flesh and blood victims. Take this statistic. U.S. officials have recently said that between 10 to 30 Iraqis are kidnapped every day here. 25-year-old Ali Abad Al Fatah (ph) was one of them. A criminal gang took him one day from his house, stuffed him in the trunk of a car, and transported him to a hideout, where he was gagged and bound and repeatedly beaten.

Mr. ALI ABAD AL FATAH: (Through Translator) I thought I was going to die. I thought I would never see my parents, my wife, my child again. The ransom that they asked my parents to give was impossible for us to come up with unless we sold our house.

GARCIA NAVARRO: The kidnappers demanded $250,000, a fortune by Iraqi standards. After seven days of intense bargaining, the family paid $50,000, and Ali was thrown out of the car, wrapped in a sack, in an area of southwest Baghdad.

Mr. AL FATAH: (Through Translator) I fainted, and some boys came and helped me stand up. They thought I was drunk, but then they smelled my breath and realized I was not. I told them I had been kidnapped. They said they had seen a Mercedes dump me out of the trunk, and they thought I was trash.

GARCIA NAVARRO: There are other statistics, too. On Iraq's highways and streets, there were over 10,000 roadside bomb attacks in 2005, double the number of 2004, according to the Pentagon. The U.S. military says the improvised explosive devices have killed fewer American soldiers, though, in part because U.S. troops have gotten better at looking for them. Sometimes, though, there are hidden costs to those numbers. Dulivan Berwari(ph) lives in Mosul. He's the NPR stringer there. A few weeks ago, he was on his way down to the capital in a taxi. Cars now frequently take side roads because U.S. convoys move cautiously along the major highways trying to avoid IEDs. They don't allow civilian cars to pass them, blocking regular traffic.

Mr. DULIVAN BERWARI (Citizen, Iraq): (Through Translator) We took a side road to avoid a U.S. convoy. Suddenly we saw around 10 to 15 armed men at a makeshift check point. Some of them had their faces covered, some not. They all held guns.

GARCIA NAVARRO: He was terrified, and hid his press card.

Mr. BERWARI: As we approached the gunmen, the car behind us tried to escape, but it smashed into another car as it was trying to flee. The insurgents gathered around that car and waved us through. In my rearview mirror, we saw that the drivers and passengers were all taken away.

GARCIA NAVARRO: Dulivan didn't pause to see what happened to them. Earlier this month, in the same area, an entire busload of 43 police recruits were murdered after they were stopped on another side road by insurgents. Dulivan arrived safely in Baghdad, thanking God he narrowly avoided becoming yet another statistic announced at the press conferences he covers for a living.

Lourdes Garcia Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.

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