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IRAQ: Baghdad mortuary overwhelmed by rising numbers of dead

IRIN

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BAGHDAD, 17 May 2006 (IRIN) - Sajida Youssef, a housekeeper, waited more than 24 hours for the body of her son, who had been murdered by thieves, to be released from Baghdad's central morgue.

"Not only is there the suffering of having my son brutally killed, but now I must wait hours until the mortuary can examine his body," said Sajida.

Lack of space, a shortage of doctors and an increase in the number of victims of daily violence countrywide has put pressure on Baghdad's only mortuary, which used to release bodies in five hours or less. "We have a lack of equipment and professionals," said Dr Fa'aq Ameen, director of the health ministry's Forensic Medicine Institute.

"Our work is getting more difficult because more Iraqis are being brutally killed, requiring lengthy investigations and examinations that can take hours and sometimes days."

An average of 70 civilians are killed in Baghdad every day, largely a result of the sectarian violence which has been on the rise since the 22 February attack on a revered Shi'ite shrine in Samarra city. Every month, the mortuary receives more than 1,500 bodies, not including the bodies of people killed in the north and south of the country.

"We can store up to 120 corpses, but with the ongoing violence and examination delays, we sometimes find ourselves with double that number," Ameen said. He went on to warn of the possibility of disease if bodies remained without refrigeration for long periods of time and stressed the morgue's need for more refrigeration units.

The families and friends of victims, meanwhile, point the finger at government failures. "The government is responsible for all this because they cannot keep our lives secure," said Sajida. "During the regime of Saddam Hussein, families had never heard of the morgue ľ today it has become a common word in our vocabularies."

Hassan Abdel-Kadder, the father of a girl raped and killed as she left her school in the capital, also complained bitterly of procedural ineptitude. "We were informed of our daughter's death three days ago," he said. "But due to the incompetence of mortuary employees, who initially told us she wasn't there, we found her 72 hours later."

According to Ameen, bodies, usually brought to the mortuary by civilians or police officers, are initially checked for identifiable information. He pointed out, however, that in most cases there was a lack of documentation or contact information. What's more, bodies generally cannot be buried until they are claimed by next-of-kin.

"Sometimes, when families are late to claim bodies, we're obliged to bury them and write down all relevant information until someone comes searching for them," explained Ameen. "After that, bodies can be exhumed and reburied at a preferred place at the request of the family."

One morgue employee, preferring anonymity for security reasons, noted that families often go straight to the morgue whenever a family member goes missing. "Whenever there's an explosion, a huge number of people come to the morgue searching for their loved ones, even before we've received any bodies," he said.

Currently, there is no government organ mandated with informing people of slain relatives or with searching for those who have disappeared. While some local NGOs and organisations ľ such as the Iraqi Red Crescent Society ľ are trying to help families trace missing people, they can only deal with relatively small numbers.


:: Article nr. 23343 sent on 17-may-2006 23:06 ECT

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Link: www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/98622f02b209f5774ca610b3a24ea86e.htm



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