Coronavirus: Iraq not 'deliberately' underreporting cases, says president

All countries are underreporting the virus, said Barham Salih, adding that 'any notion of a deliberate falsification of records is out of the question'

An Iraqi medic takes a oral swab from a boy in Iraq's central shrine city of Najaf on April 20, 2020, during the nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.  / AFP

Iraq's President Barham Salih dismissed claims that his country was "deliberately" under reporting cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday as 35 new infections were recorded, bringing the total to 1,574.
"In terms of under reporting, this is certainly the case not only in Iraq but across the world," Mr Salih said during a webcast with the Asia Society Policy Institute.
"I want to assure you based on all the evidence that we have, including that which is with the [United Nations] and [World Health Organisation], that any notion of a deliberate falsification of records is out of the question, we have looked at that very carefully," he said.
Mr Salih stressed that active testing and surveillance is a vital part of efforts to combat the virus.
"It's important to underscore that Iraq has mobilised early due to concerns about our health infrastructure," said Mr Salih.
Iraq's health care infrastructure has been damaged by years of war, sanction and corruption, one of many issues that triggered anti-government protests late last year.
Mr Salih's comments come as the country's Communication and Media Commission lifted on Sunday a suspension ban imposed on Reuters news agency following a story detailing a greater number of coronavirus cases than had been officially reported by the Iraqi government.
The news agency was asked for an apology and fined 25 million Iraqi dinars (US$21,000).
Mr Salih said he was working with a legal team to "revoke" the suspension of the licence.

"We remain very serious in combating this plague, we cannot overlook the number of deaths, or the dedication of our health workers," he said.
"We are yet to work out the virus's complications and any notion of misleading the public and world opinion I will dismiss," he said.
Aside from curbing the spread of the disease, Iraq is also going through a political deadlock.
Mr Salih nominated Mustafa Al Kadhimi, a former intelligence chief, to the position of Prime Minister designate this month after two previous nominees failed to win backing from MPs.
Politicians in Baghdad are hopeful that Mr Al Kadhimi "can steer Iraq in the right direction", according to Mr Salih.
The new prime minister will face the task of containing the spread of coronavirus, as well as a dire economic crisis and a global reduction in oil prices.
Iraq is in desperate need to hold elections to end its political uncertainty, said the president.
The country has faced weeks of political deadlock after the largest parliamentary blocs failed to agree on a successor to Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned as prime minister in November.
"Iraq has struggled through 40 years of conflict. My hope is that us policymakers can focus on the top priorities, jobs for our kids and developing our economy," Mr Salih said.