BAGHDAD, Iraq – At least 150,000 Iraqis have been killed in the three and a half years since the U.S. led an invasion of the country, a senior Iraqi official estimated Thursday.
At a press conference in Vienna, Iraqi Health Minister Ali al-Shemari said about three people were injured for every person killed in violence since the war began.
Al-Shemari, a Shiite allied to the anti-U.S. radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, did not give precise details on how he arrived at the figure but said that between 50 and 100 people were killed each day in Iraq.
The 150,000 estimate by al-Shemari was the first overall casualty estimate for the war by the Iraqi government. Before the announcement on Thursday, no Iraqi official had spoken of a death toll of even half that number, with most previous estimates holding that about 50,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed in the nearly 44-month-old conflict.
A study published in October by the British medical journal The Lancet came up with an even higher estimate, claiming that more than 600,000 Iraqis have been killed. That is more than 10 times most estimates.
The Lancet study generated some controversy because of the method used by researchers, who conducted door-to-door surveys with around 1,800 households in Baghdad and extrapolated the number of reported deaths to get a nationwide figure.
During a visit to Vienna Thursday, al-Shemari disputed that figure.
"Since three and a half years, since the change of the Saddam regime, some people say we have 600,000 are killed. This is an exaggerated number. I think 150 is OK," he said.
Al-Shemari said insurgent attacks were exhausting the finances of his ministry and that hospitals were in need of aid.
"We need help, we need donations," he said.
Al-Shemari, who said he came to Austria to meet with construction and pharmaceutical companies and Austria's Chamber of Commerce, also said the United States should let Iraq assume full control of its army and police force. Doing so, he said, would allow the Iraqi government to bring the violence under control within six months.
"The army of America didn't do its job ... they tie the hands of my government," Al-Shemari said.
"They should hand us the power, we are a sovereign country," he said, adding that as a first step, U.S. soldiers should leave Iraq's cities.
The government of Nouri al-Maliki has been pressuring the United States to speed up the handover of power to the Iraqi army. The Shiite-dominated leadership wants to see U.S. forces quickly pulled out of Iraqi population centers and repositioned in U.S. bases as a first step toward an eventual withdrawal.
The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, has said he believes Iraqis should be able to control the country's security in 12 to 18 months, although the government is pressing for a quicker transition.
The health minister said he was pleased by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation and expressed hope that his successor would "pay a little attention to our needs and understanding."
"We are happy that he is gone and we hope that the new minister understands the situation in Iraq and acts positively with my prime minister and Cabinet," he said.
Al-Shemari said Iraq needed at least 10 years to rebuild its infrastructure and that the medical situation in the country was "gloomy."
There was a shortage of medical supplies that sometimes took months to reach the country from abroad, while roadblocks prevented people from getting to hospitals, he said.
No hospital has been built in Iraq since 1983, al-Shemari said, adding that the country's 15,000 available hospital beds were well short of the 80,000 beds needed. The minister also noted that many doctors had left the country.
"We need help from anybody," Al-Shemari said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.