Tim Takaro

Tim Takaro

Visa troubles thwart Iraqi doctor's SFU visit

May 17, 2007

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By Stuart Colcleugh

It was like having a party without the guest of honour. Riyadh Lafta, an Iraqi epidemiologist whose research on civilian deaths during the Iraq war has embarrassed the Bush administration, was unable to make his planned speech April 20 at SFU's Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue.

His SFU visit, which was thwarted after Britain refused him a transit visa en route from Jordan to Vancouver, was scheduled after the U. S. refused him a visa to speak at the University of Washington (UW).

Johns Hopkins University researcher Les Roberts spoke in Lafta's place, via a live feed from UW, to a Wosk Centre audience of about 90 people. Roberts was co-author with Lafta of an October 2006 article in the British medical journal The Lancet which concluded that Iraqi war casualties are more than 20 times higher than the figure the U.S. government uses.

Working from country-wide door-to-door surveys, the pair estimated that between March 18, 2003 - the start of the invasion - and June 2006 an additional 654,965 Iraqis died on top of what would be expected based on pre-war mortality rates. And more than 600,000 of those deaths - or about 92 per cent - are attributable to violence.

“This whole affair has been frustrating to say the least,” says SFU health science associate professor Tim Takaro, a colleague of both Lafta and Roberts, who hosted the Wosk Centre event.

“Lafta has critical information we wanted our students to hear about the hugely under-reported level of civilian war casualties in Iraq and the resulting public-health disaster that's unfolding there.”

Lafta had planned to speak at SFU about the war casualty research and also work with Takaro on data indicating a startling rise in cancer levels among Iraqi children since the 1991 invasion.

“He was bringing a lot of his data with him in hard copy,” says Takaro, “and we were planning to analyze the data together.”

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