Iraqi doctor who disputes official death tolls is denied visa to visit UW
By BRAD WONG, P-I REPORTER
An Iraqi doctor who made international headlines after stating that civilian deaths in the Iraq war far exceeded officially reported numbers is not being allowed to travel to North America to meet other academics.
Riyadh Lafta and his colleagues have been trying for months to get a U.S. travel visa so the doctor could speak at a medical conference at the University of Washington today.
The State Department has cited miscommunication as the reason for the visa holdup.
As an alternative, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C., invited Lafta to deliver his lecture today, which was to have been broadcast by video to the UW. But this week, the British government denied him a four-hour transit visa for a stopover between the Middle East and Canada.
Lafta, an epidemiologist, teaches at Al-Mustansiriya University College of Medicine in Baghdad and co-wrote an October 2006 article about Iraqi civilian deaths in The Lancet, a respected British medical journal.
The UW’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine invited him to talk about that study and elevated cancer levels, particularly affecting children, in southern Iraq, said Amy Hagopian, an acting assistant professor.
Hagopian, who is conducting research with Lafta, believes the Bush administration is purposely blocking his travel to the United States. “My hypothesis is the Bush administration was extremely threatened by The Lancet study,” she said.
State Department spokesman Steve Royster denied that politics played a role in Lafta’s visa never being issued.
“This is a matter of a simple but unfortunate miscommunication,” he said.
A British foreign affairs spokesperson could not be reached Thursday for comment.
U.S. Embassy officials in Amman, Jordan, where Lafta applied for a visa in July 2006, tried contacting the doctor twice by e-mail for information, Royster said. But they say they never received a response, and incomplete visa applications can be held.
Royster was uncertain if embassy staff members tried contacting him in other ways, or if his North American colleagues knew of the miscommunication.
Hagopian called his explanation disingenuous.
“Of course, he contacted them after not hearing. And we contacted them on his behalf,” she said. “They were stonewalling us. Any comments to the contrary are obfuscation.”
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