Saturday, April 21, 2007

Iraqi doctor denied visit to U.S. conference: civilian deaths specialist

Iraqi doctor denied visit to U.S. conference
April 20, 2007
associated press

SEATTLE–An Iraqi doctor who concluded that more Iraqi civilians have died in the war than has been reported has been prevented from attending a medical conference at the University of Washington.

Riyadh Lafta had been scheduled to give a lecture this evening at the Seattle campus but his visa to the United States has not been approved.

The State Department cited miscommunication as the reason for the delay.

Lafta is an epidemiologist who teaches at Al-Mustansiriya University College of Medicine in Baghdad. He co-wrote an October 2006 article that concluded nearly 655,000 Iraqis have died since the war began in March 2003. The article appeared in the British medical journal, The Lancet.

The findings were 10 times greater than other studies, said Tim Takaro, an associate professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

"The magnitude of that has been lost on the American people. Both the British and U.S. governments have discounted these figures," said Takaro, who conducts research with Lafta.

The School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the UW asked Lafta to discuss the study, as well as elevated cancer levels in southern Iraq.

Last July, Lafta applied for a visa with the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan.

Officials there tried contacting the doctor twice by e-mail, but never received a response, State Department spokesman Steve Royster said. Incomplete visa applications can be held.

"This is a matter of a simple but unfortunate miscommunication," Royster said.

Amy Hagopian, a UW acting assistant professor who is conducting research with Lafta, believes the reason is more political.

"My hypothesis is the Bush administration was extremely threatened by The Lancet study," Hagopian said.

Hagopian said both Lafta and UW officials tried contacting federal officials when they hadn't heard anything about his visa. The university was assisted by staff from the offices of both U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who visited Iraq in 2002, and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.)

"They were stonewalling us," she said. "Any comments to the contrary are obfuscation."

Lafta was invited to deliver his lecture today at Simon Fraser University so it could be broadcast by video to the UW. However, the British government this week denied him a four-hour transit visa for a stopover between the Middle East and Canada.

Les Roberts of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, who worked with Lafta on the Iraqi death estimates, was scheduled to speak in his place at the UW.

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