Baghdad Morgue Tells Story Statistics Can’t

With Isam Rashid

BAGHDAD – Baghdad’s central morgue received more than a thousand bodies each month this year, a doctor has revealed. The body count here gives a more accurate picture of the story in Baghdad than any official statistics.

Before the war, this morgue, located at Bab al-Mu’atham near the city center, received only about 200 to 300 bodies a month, Dr. Kais Hassan who has worked at the morgue, said.

There are only three storage rooms and two doctors at the center. Today, the morgue is overflowing. On some days, more than 100 bodies are interred at the morgue.

The capacity became stretched particularly during the term of Ibrahim al-Jaafari who took over as prime minister after the January 2005 elections but was finally persuaded to stand down earlier this year. The ministry of interior was then under Bayan Jabr.

Killing in Baghdad increased after the occupation, but it has flourished under the militia explosion and the creation of what Iraqis commonly refer to as death squads.

"Most of those brought dead here have been tortured by beating, electricity, acid, drills, and by other horrible ways," said an Iraqi who refused to give his name. "When any Iraqi is arrested by police now, it means we will find his dead body in Baghdad’s streets after some days. Because of all this killing, this morgue is not enough."

The smell of death is all around the morgue. That and the crowds of crying families searching for their dead are now a ubiquitous sight around the morgue.

IPS was refused access to the morgue, and was told journalists are forbidden to report on the conditions inside.

"The last manager for this morgue, Faik Bakr, received death threats because he said there were more than 7,000 Iraqis killed by death squads in recent months," an employee told IPS. "Most of the dead arrived with their hands tied behind their backs."

The employee advised the IPS correspondent to leave immediately.

Ahmed, who was in the crowd outside the morgue with his family, explained why so many families were waiting.

"All of them are here to look for their sons, fathers, mothers, and friends who disappeared some days before. Also, they look for them because militias wearing police uniforms arrested them. Now in Iraq, if anyone is arrested by militias wearing police uniforms, his family looks for him in the morgue."

Bodies arrive at the morgue in the custody of the police convoys many times throughout the day. While IPS was speaking with Ahmed, two police vehicles arrived, carrying many bodies.

After a few minutes of chaos, one man began shouting, "This is my son! He was tortured and killed, I lost him forever!" Many people gathered around to comfort him.

The body showed many holes. One of the eyes had been removed.

The father, Ali, spoke with IPS after the body was taken into the morgue. "He was a shopkeeper, his shop was in al-Rashid street, and three days ago he was arrested by police, and I find him here, killed."

Ali believes his son was killed only because he is Sunni. He said his son was not wanted by the police for any crime. "He was loved by all his friends, and everyone liked him. He was innocent and he did nothing wrong."

Near the morgue is a large parking lot. Ramadan, a guard in his forties, is able to watch what goes on all day.

"A week earlier, they brought more than 100 bodies in one day from al-Taji north of Baghdad, and another day they brought just 20 bodies. There is an average of 50 to 60 bodies every day."

Ramadan is not always an observer from the parking lot.

"Many times I helped the workers at the morgue carry bodies inside. It isn’t cold enough in there, and they keep the bodies piled one over another. Some of the bodies are on the floor and everywhere else inside the morgue."

He says the bodies are from both Sunni and Shia families. "I see their families when they came to take their bodies. They are from both because of the sectarian war that is being waged in Iraq."

Ramadan added, "I hope one day I can find other work and leave this place."

Read more by Brian Conley