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UK Refuses Entry to Lancet Iraq Death Toll Study Author

One of the co-authors of a Lancet study which estimated that more than 650,000 civilian deaths had occurred in Iraq following the 2003 invasion has been barred from entering the UK after he was refused a transit visa at Heathrow following a flight from Jordan.
1 May 2007 - CADU

Dr Riyadh Lafta, Professor of Community Medicine in the Medical College of Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, had no problem visiting the UK in June 2005 when he was involved in a project to measure the level of depleted uranium in children’s teeth.1 On that occasion he was granted a visa for a week in order to deliver the teeth to Leicester University for isotopic analysis.

The Lancet study was released in October 2006 and drew immediate condemnation from the US and UK administrations.2 Subsequent FoI requests by BBC reporter Owen Bennett-Jones have found that the government’s own scientists had advised ministers that the Johns Hopkins study on Iraq civilian mortality was accurate and reliable.3

After publication, the prime minister's official spokesman said that the Lancet's study "was not one we believe to be anywhere near accurate." The foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that the Lancet figures were "extrapolated" and a "leap." President Bush said: "I don't consider it a credible report."

However, according to the FoI requests, scientists at the UK's Department for International Development thought differently. They concluded that the study's methods were "tried and tested." Indeed, the Johns Hopkins approach would likely lead to an "underestimation of mortality." The Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser said the research was "robust," close to "best practice," and "balanced." He recommended "caution in publicly criticising the study."

Dr Lafta was invited to speak in late April at a University in Vancouver, Canada; he had tickets to fly from Amman to London and from London to Vancouver but the UK denied him a visa to change planes at Heathrow airport. It seems likely that the visa denial is related to his involvement in the Iraq Mortality Studies published in the Lancet. Although he has sent his children to live abroad, Dr Lafta chooses to live and work in Baghdad.

Speaking to the Canadian Globe and Mail recently Dr Lafta said he is in fear of his life following the publication of the Lancet report which found that 2.5% of the Iraqi population had died following the 2003 invasion. However he has vowed to continue with his research and believes that the threats have heightened his senses. "You use it to concentrate more, and you start to struggle for something," he said. "Maybe your adrenaline is going. You have an objective, and the difficult conditions make a special kind of person. It makes you more courageous."4