Factiva Dow Jones & Reuters

Baghdad's Murder Rate Irresponsibly Distorted.

824 words
12 December 2003
Investor's Business Daily
(c) 2003 Investor's Business Daily


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld created quite a ruckus in June when he said: "You've got to remember that if Washington, D.C., were the size of Baghdad, we would be having something like 215 murders a month."

This bothered some simply because it indicated that Iraq was being handled well. But another aspect upset many: that a country where civilians were able to freely own machine guns could have a lower murder rate than our own nation's capital where even handguns are banned.

The claim did not sit well with those pushing to renew the assault weapons ban in our own country.

Sounds Dangerous

The apparently low crime rate was all the more surprising because Saddam Hussein had let all of Iraq's criminals out of jail before his government was removed. In addition, Iraq is still in turmoil: Iraqi police are new to their jobs, and terrorist attacks stretch them thin.

The debate over Baghdad's crime just resurfaced, with The New York Times publishing an op-ed by Brookings Institution researchers Adriana Lins de Albuquerque and Michael O'Hanlon. It claims that Baghdad's murder rate is among the highest in the world. Supposedly Baghdad's annualized murder rate from April to October this year ranged from an incredible 100 to 185 per 100,000 people - a number, they pointed out, that averaged several times greater than the rate in Washington.

Even an op-ed in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey says that Rumsfeld is in "denial" when he claims the "crime levels" are comparable in the two cities. An AP story points to bodies in the morgue and claims: "Baghdad is in the midst of an unprecedented crime wave."

Yet according to The Wall Street Journal Europe, the U.S. Army 1st Division in Baghdad reports that the numbers fell continually from a high of 19.5 per 100,000 in July to only five per 100,000 in October. The October rate is actually lower than the 5.6 U.S. murder rate in 2002.

By contrast, The New York Times' latest numbers for October claim to show a murder rate of 140 - a 28-fold difference.

Albuquerque and O'Hanlon not only imply that murders are rampant, but also are generally rising. By contrast, the 1st Division's numbers show crime is under control and falling, and vindicate Rumsfeld. The murder rate would then never be even half as high as that for Washington. If Albuquerque and O'Hanlon are right, Rumsfeld has some serious explaining to do.

So who is right?

I contacted the authors of both pieces. Albuquerque and O'Hanlon, who wrote the Times piece, provided two sources for their murder rate numbers: an article by Neil MacFarquhar in the Sept. 16 New York Times and a piece by Lara Marlowe in the Oct. 11 Irish Times.

Yet both references clearly stated that much more than murder was included in the reports that they used from the Baghdad morgue.

MacFarquhar notes that these deaths also included "automobile accidents" and cases where people "were shot dead by American soldiers," cases that clearly did not involve murders.

The Irish Times piece mentions that "up to a quarter of fatal shootings (in the morgue) are caused by U.S. troops."

For some perspective, in Washington, murders account for fewer than 5% of all deaths. Even counting only the types of deaths explicitly mentioned in the stories citing the Baghdad morgue (accidental deaths, murders, suicides) and assuming that soldiers were engaged in the same type of fighting in Washington as they are in Iraq, murders in D.C. would account for just a third of deaths. (The respective numbers for the U.S. as a whole are even lower: one half of 1% and 11%.)

Inflated Sums

Obviously, counting these other deaths as "murders" in the capital would imply that murders were three to 20 times more common than they actually were. A public affairs officer with that division, Jason Beck, confirmed for me that a large part of the Iraqi legal system is being overseen by the U.S. judge advocate general officers, and they are using the same standards for murder rates as used in the U.S. and separating out murders from other deaths.

Numbers mean a lot. Perceptions that conditions in Iraq are deteriorating constantly get play in evaluating whether President Bush deserves re-election.

When a publication of record such as The New York Times gets Baghdad's October murder rates wrong by up to a factor of 28-to-1 and no correction is issued, the consequences are significant. To equate accidental deaths and U.S. soldiers killing terrorists with murders is irresponsible.

John Lott, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "The Bias Against Guns."

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Iraq crisis - Drug craze is fuelling murder on streets of Iraqi capital - An epidemic of narcotics is ...

By Peter Beaumont.
1,192 words
14 September 2003
The Observer
© Copyright 2003. The Observer. All rights reserved.

Iraq crisis - Drug craze is fuelling murder on streets of Iraqi capital - An epidemic of narcotics is making thugs more aggressive and life more perilous, reports Peter Beaumont in Baghdad.

ZALA AND his friends live in the gardens of Baghdad. They hang around the banks of the Tigris to beg and steal. Last week Ala and his friends fished a bloated corpse out of the river and handed it to the police, hoping to get some money. Mainly, though, Ala and his gang do drugs.

When I meet them one morning at 10am they already stink of 'tannar' - the paint thinners and glue that they sniff in bags. A small medicine bottle costs 1,000 dinars (60p). The only girl in Ala's gang, a skinny, filthy child probably in her early teens, is clasping a full bottle. What they really like, when they can get it, is 'capsils'. They list the pills you can buy on the streets, especially by the Babb al Sharq, the Eastern Gate: 'pinks' and 'Lebanese', 'eyebrows' and 'crosses', 'reds' and 'Syrians'. Most of all, what these children like is a drug they call Artane, Baghdad's most popular intoxicant.

Its proper name is benzhexol. It is an anticolinergic, used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease and to counter the effect of anti-psychotic treatments. A sheet purchased from a private pharmacy will cost 1,000 dinars. For street kids like Ala, who buy them individually from the drug dealers, it costs a little more.

Taken in large doses, and dissolved in alcohol to speed the effect, Artane causes symptoms of euphoria, impulsive behaviour, easy provocation - and sometimes vivid hallucinations. Most importantly of all for the car-jackers, gunmen, bandits and muggers of Iraq, it removes your sense of fear.

Ala is about 20 years old and leads a gang of 10-to 15-year-olds. He was released from Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison under Saddam Hussein's general amnesty of prisoners. I ask him what he likes about Artane. His eyes spaced and filmy, Ala replies: 'It makes you feel more brave. It makes you want to attack people. It makes you more aggressive.'

And it is this drug that is fuelling a city-wide crime wave. Eighty per cent of criminals being picked up by the fledgling Iraqi Police Service, according to senior policemen, appear to be under the influence of drugs. In Baghdad, referrals to the city's clinic for drug abuses have doubled in the last few months. Artane is Baghdad's favourite drug.

Ala and his friends - in the local patois - are 'capsilun': the capsule people, part of a drug culture that, in Iraq, has its very roots in violent criminality.

Their drugs of choice - Artane, valium and other hypnotics, and powerful anti-epileptics like clonazepam - were the drugs of choice in Abu Ghraib prison, smuggled in by families or sold to inmates by corrupt doctors.

With the release of between 40,000 and 75,000 convicted prisoners before the US invasion, a whole prison-based drug culture has suddenly swamped the capital's streets. The Dutch courage supplied to these young gangsters by Artane is marked in a monthly body count of almost 400 shooting victims in Baghdad alone.

AT THE Karrada police station Lt Col Thamir Sadoun Ali, a wiry officer with greying hair, is in charge of 200 or so policemen on the front line of Baghdad's Artane-fuelled crime war. Ten of his men have died since President George Bush declared the conflict was over.

He is puzzled and disturbed by a phenomenon that is new to his experience of policing. 'Six years ago the drug problem was very limited. But then with the pre-war pardon of criminals by Saddam Hussein, suddenly it became a major problem.

'It used to be the case that criminals here were heavy users of alcohol. Once they had been sent to jail they couldn't get it.

'What they had access to instead was drugs like Artane and valium given to them either by visiting family members or corrupt offi cials. Now those same criminals are on the streets and using those drugs.'

According to Thamir, 80 per cent of the suspects arrested show signs of narcotic intoxication. Indeed the problem of drug-inspired crime, admits General Jafar abdil Rassol al Adili, deputy chief of police, has led to the Ministry of Justice establishing Iraq's first serious anti-drugs units as part of the effort to reduce all types of crime.

The impact of drugs on Iraq's well-documented crime problems, especially in Baghdad, has been noted with alarm too by the international advisers brought in to help Iraq's new Ministries and police service. Among those concerned by the impact of the 'capsilun' on criminality in Baghdad is deputy chief constable Douglas Brand, an officer with the South Yorkshire police who served for 23 years in the Metropolitan police: 'These drugs seem to embolden people to do crimes and they have no sense of what they are doing.'

What worries him most is the 'impactive nature' of Iraq's new criminal drug culture on a society that has, thus far, been largely shielded from a drug culture.

'What worries us,' he said, 'is the risk of a second-phase drug abuse problem that draws in wider Iraqi society and sets up its own economic dynamic.' Already, Brand said, specialist drug intelligence officers had been drafted in, and advisers were grappling to get the capsilun off Baghdad's streets.

'We are looking with the Ministry of Justice at whether we can legally negate Saddam's pardons that put these people on the streets. Failing that we are examining the possibility that those pardons could be regarded as some kind of parole and that a new offence would mean we could send these people back to finish their first sentences.'

The capsilun are not only a major problem for the police. They are a big challenge too for Iraq's almost non-existent psychiatric care and social services. With only 12 psychiatrists in Baghdad and 90 in the country - and only four clinical psychologists serving 27 million people - the wave of drug abuse and addiction, in a country trying to recover from war, is an unbearable imposition.

Dr Hashim al Zainy is director of the Ibn Rushd psychiatric hospital in Baghdad, in the front line. 'Two months ago a person arrived and asked me for Artane,' Dr al Zainy said. 'While I examined him he told me he was a murderer who was two weeks from execution when he was released under Saddam's pardon. I did not diagnose a psychotic disorder, but when I refused to prescribe Artane he pulled a gun on me. I said I would fetch some and called some US soldiers.'

One of his patients, Hassan, a recovering addict, former policeman and convicted murderer, agreed to talk to The Observer

'I could not kill someone unless I took a pill,' he said.

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