Civilian deaths in Iraq soaring

October deadliest month yet, with toll exceeding 3,700

November 23, 2006|By Louise Roug | Louise Roug,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The death toll among Iraqi civilians has grown steadily amid unremitting violence that now takes an average of 120 lives each day, the United Nations reported yesterday in its bleakest assessment of noncombatant casualties since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

The October toll of at least 3,709 civilian deaths was the highest so far, nearly 400 more than in September and 700 more than in August.

The continued slaughter of civilians and increasing poverty have sent more than 2 million people fleeing their homes, and most of them have left the country. Every month, nearly 100,000 Iraqis flee to neighboring Jordan and Syria, the United Nations found.

U.S. officials and Iraqis are approaching major decisions on Iraq's future. At the White House and the Pentagon, officials have been debating whether a short-term increase in troops might tamp down Iraq's increasingly bloody civil war. Critics of the Bush administration have been pushing for a plan to begin withdrawing U.S. troops.

As all parties search for solutions, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is headed for meetings in Tehran, Iran, this weekend that could bring together Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian representatives.

Vice President Dick Cheney plans to visit Saudi Arabia on Saturday, and President Bush plans to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki next week. Rather than risking a meeting in Iraq, the two will get together in the relative security of neighboring Jordan.

Sectarian killings and insurgent attacks have caused much of the current violence in Iraq, and a majority of the deaths have been in Baghdad, according to the bimonthly U.N. report on the violence.

Baghdad effort fails

This summer, thousands of U.S. troops fanned out across the capital in a much-publicized but unsuccessful effort to restore calm.

Iraqi security forces kill those they are meant to protect, gunmen prey upon the weakest, and the judicial system is in disarray, the U.N. report says.

The estimated average of 120 violent civilian deaths a day would add up to about 44,000 a year. The United Nations based the civilian death toll on figures from the Baghdad morgue and the Iraqi Health Ministry.

Yesterday, at least 65 Iraqis were reported killed in assassinations and bombings, authorities said. This month, 49 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, down from the near-record level in October.

Gianni Magazzeni, chief of the U.N. human rights office in Baghdad, presented the world body's report inside the capital's high-security Green Zone. He said al-Maliki's government has "taken a number of important steps in protecting human rights" but that more should be done to improve the rule of law.

Recently, the report says, U.S. and Iraqi inspectors found 284 prisoners, ages 7 to 22, "in deplorable hygiene and medical conditions with signs of physical and sexual abuse allegedly committed by the prison guards and/or by their fellow inmates" in a prison on the western outskirts of the capital.

The juveniles were crammed 70 to a cell and were without enough food or water. Some had not been charged. At least 41 bore signs of mistreatment, torture and sexual abuse.

"The more there is impudence and no one is punished for their crimes, the more that fuels the cycle of violence and counter-violence," Magazzeni said. Bringing people to justice will be key to restoring order, he added.

The report underscores the magnitude of the country's problems.

"Many of the death squads and rival militias have direct links with or are supported by influential political parties belonging to the government and are not hiding their affiliation," the report says.

"Militias and other armed groups are said to be in control of whole areas in the east and west of Baghdad and continue to carry out illegal policing, manning of checkpoints and `dispensation of justice' through illegal trials and extra-judicial executions."

Arbitrary arrests, allegations of torture and sexual abuse, deplorable prison conditions and a lack of judicial guarantees characterize Iraq's detention system, the report says.

In northern Iraq, Kurdish militias are suspected of holding detainees in secret prisons without trial for long periods.

The police and army have reportedly been infiltrated by Shiite militias and death squads, and absenteeism is widespread.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, the report says, "half of the 5,000 police force and 13,000 army soldiers are not reporting to duty at any given time."

`Severe suffering'

The report also notes that operations by U.S. troops in Anbar province "continued to cause severe suffering to the local population."

Assassinations and persecution of women, minorities, journalists, intellectuals, educators, doctors, lawyers, politicians and security forces have continued "in an alarming number" during the past two months, the report says.

"Incidents of honor killings, kidnappings associated with rape and sex slavery, and killing of women and children for sectarian reasons were reported in Kurdistan, Kirkuk and Mosul," it says.

The violence has sent as many as 1.6 million people fleeing Iraq, the report says, and almost 440,000 others have been displaced inside the country.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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