"The kidnapping and killing of people ... is in a more secret way than before," an Iraqi "body contractor" tells Newsweek's Babak Dehghanpisheh in a new piece with a new theory explaining one reason why statistics on the number of civilian casualties of sectarian violence have declined so significantly in recent months.
Instead of leaving anonymous headless bodies dumped on a Baghdad street for the government to add to its count of murdered innocents, it seems the new trend is for militias, insurgents, and criminal gangs to try to make their victims disappear forever.
People hire the "body contractor" to track down missing relatives, though in most cases he is only able to deliver the corpse of the deceased loved one. He tells Newsweek his business has gone down as violence has slowed during the surge, but also says that the criminals are making his job harder by hiding the corpses.
There's no question that violence across Iraq has declined: in December 2006, approximately 3,000 Iraqi civilians were killed across the country; this November about 600 were. But the problem—and the reason no one from U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus on down is declaring victory yet—is that those statistics do not tell the whole story. Body hunters like Sowadi, Baghdad residents and local gunmen all say that militias are making more of an effort to disguise their grisly handiwork—burying bodies in shallow graves, dumping them in city sewers. Robert Lamburne, director of forensic services at the British Embassy, has spoken to dozens of Iraqi policemen and examined bodies—relatively fresh—from one of several graves uncovered recently. His judgment: "There's less killing, but there's more concealment."