July deadliest month for Iraqi civilians

August 16, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- July appears to have been the deadliest month of the war for Iraqi civilians, according to figures from the Health Ministry and the Baghdad morgue, reinforcing criticism that the Baghdad security plan implemented in June by the new Iraqi government has failed.

An average of more than 110 Iraqis were killed each day in July, according to the figures. The 3,438 civilian deaths that month marked a 9 percent increase over the total in June and was nearly double January's toll.

The rising numbers indicate that sectarian violence is spiraling out of control, and they seem to bolster the assertion of many senior Iraqi officials and U.S. military analysts in recent months that the country is embroiled in a civil war, not just slipping into one, and that the U.S.-led forces are caught between Sunni Arab guerrillas and Shiite militias.

The numbers also provide the most definitive evidence yet that the Baghdad security plan started by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on June 14 has not quelled the violence. The plan, which was hailed by top Iraqi and U.S. officials at the time, relied on setting up more Iraqi-run checkpoints to stymie insurgent movement.

Those officials have since acknowledged that the plan has fallen far short of its aims, prompting the U.S. military to station thousands of additional soldiers to the capital this month and to back away from proposals for a withdrawal of some troops by year's end.

The Baghdad morgue reported receiving 1,855 bodies last month, more than half of the total deaths recorded in the country for the month and 18 percent more than in June.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said in an interview last week that Iraq's political leaders have failed to fully use their influence to rein in the soaring violence and that people associated with the government are stoking the flames of sectarian hatred.

"I think the time has come for these leaders to take responsibility with regards to sectarian violence, to the security of Baghdad at the present time," Khalilzad said.

The U.S. military has been especially eager in recent weeks to prove that Baghdad can be tamed if U.S. troops are added to the streets and take a more active role. That effectively amounts to a repudiation of earlier efforts to turn over security more quickly to the Iraqis.

The U.S. command has added nearly 4,000 soldiers to Baghdad by extending the tour of a combat brigade.

Under a new security plan aimed at overhauling al-Maliki's efforts, some of the city's most violent southern and western areas are virtually occupied block by block by U.S. and Iraqi forces, with entire neighborhoods transformed into miniature police states after being sealed off by blast walls and concertina wire.

When the number of civilian deaths in July is added to the Iraqi government numbers for earlier months obtained by the United Nations, the total indicates that at least 17,776 Iraqi civilians died violently in the first seven months of this year, an average of 2,539 a month.

The Health Ministry did not provide figures for people wounded by attacks in Baghdad but said that at least 3,597 Iraqis were wounded outside the city in July, 25 percent more than in June.

United Nations officials and military analysts say the morgue and ministry numbers almost certainly fall far short of the total because of the haphazard nature of information in a war zone.

Many casualties in areas outside Baghdad probably never appear in the official count, said Anthony H. Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research group in Washington.

That helps explain why fatalities in Baghdad appear to account for such a large percentage of the total, he said in a recent report.

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