April homicide toll in Baghdad at 1,091

Total number of civilian deaths likely higher

May 11, 2006|By SOLOMON MOORE | SOLOMON MOORE,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Baghdad's morgue received 1,091 homicide victims in April, most from sectarian killings that have become "no less dangerous than terrorism," Iraq's president said yesterday.

"These daily crimes will create an environment of mutual suspicion between the nation's sons and destabilize our national unity," President Jalal Talabani warned in a statement issued by his office. Each victim leaves behind "an orphan, weeping mother, a suffering father or a suffering wife," he said.

Talabani acknowledged that the morgue statistics accounted for bodies discovered around Baghdad and that the total number of civilian deaths was likely far higher.

During the first three months of the year, at least 3,800 civilians were killed in Baghdad, according to statistics compiled by the Los Angeles Times based on information from the morgue, police and hospital officials. The number of civilian deaths in recent months is the largest since the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein three years ago.

The majority of the victims in recent months appear to have been Sunni Arabs. Leaders of the Sunni community have charged that death squads linked to Shiite militias have targeted their neighborhoods for kidnappings and assassinations.

The urgency of Talabani's warning was underscored by continuing violence Tuesday and yesterday, and sectarian tensions that reached into Iraq's parliament.

The parliament, which meets in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, has been struggling to reach agreement on key appointments to government ministries, the last stage in forming a national unity government that politicians hope will help stabilize the country.

But unity has proved elusive, and even the concrete barriers around the Green Zone cannot completely wall off the violent mood of the country.

On Monday, a fight broke out in the lobby of the parliament building over a ringing cell phone. The phone, which belonged to a female Shiite member of parliament, was chiming a Shiite prayer chant, and the ring apparently interrupted a broadcast interview being given by the speaker of the parliament, who is Sunni. One of the speaker's bodyguards allegedly attacked the aide who was holding the phone.

The incident set off two days of recriminations, which culminated yesterday in an angry exchange that disrupted the parliamentary session.

Outside, killings continued.

On Tuesday, a car bomb killed more than 24 Iraqis and injured 67 in a market in Tal Afar, a town in northeastern Iraq.

Yesterday, a group of workers at an electrical plant in Baqouba discovered four bodies inside a parked car, according to Police Lt. Mohammed Hadi. When police came to investigate, the parked car exploded, killing six electrical workers and a police officer.

Kurdish officials in Sulaymaniyah announced yesterday the escape of five terrorism suspects from a heavily guarded prison complex. The prison is managed by the U.S. military and jointly guarded by Iraqi and U.S. forces.

According to a Kurdish government spokesman, the escapees include three Iraqis, a Palestinian and a Syrian.

The Susa Castle prison fortress is about 15 miles northwest of the Kurdish administrative center of Sulaymaniyah and is isolated by five security belts. U.S. and Iraqi officials said they were investigating the prison break.

Solomon Moore writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Times' Caesar Ahmed, Shamil Aziz, Saif Rasheed, Saif Alazzawi and correspondents in Baghdad, Mosul, Baqouba and Sulaymaniyah contributed to this article.

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