Jan. 16 — The United Nations reported
Tuesday that more than 34,000 Iraqis were killed in
violence last year, a figure that represents the first comprehensive
annual count of civilian deaths and a vivid measure of the failure of the Iraqi
government and American military to provide security.
The report was the first attempt at hand-counting
individual deaths for an entire year. It was compiled using reports from
morgues, hospitals and municipal authorities across Iraq, and was nearly three
times higher than an estimate for 2006 compiled from Iraqi ministry tallies by
The Associated Press earlier this month.
Numbers of civilian
deaths have become the central indicator for the trajectory of the war, and are
extremely delicate for both Iraqi and American officials. Both follow the
tallies, but neither will release them.
An Iraqi government
spokesman called the count exaggerated, and said that it had been obtained
using “incorrect sources.” Though the government closely tracks deaths through
the Interior and Health Ministries, he said it did not have a system in place
for compiling a comprehensive figure.
Despite the criticism
from the Iraqi government, the United Nations said it used only official
sources, most of which relied on counts of death certificates. A vast majority
of Iraqi deaths are registered, at least to local authorities, so that Iraqis
can prove inheritance and receive government compensation. Some deaths still go
unreported, however, and the United Nations tally may in fact be lower than the
true number of deaths nationwide.
As death tolls have
risen, the lack of security has become the single most important barrier to
success of the American enterprise here. The numbers of dead, at least at the
Baghdad morgue, are running at double their number in 2005.
challenge, even as the United Nations released its figure — 34,452 deaths, a
number that does not yet include the December totals from all provinces — at
least 70 more Iraqis were killed on Tuesday when a series of bomb blasts struck
a largely Shiite university in northeast Baghdad.
After almost four years
of war, in which Americans have focused largely on fighting an elusive enemy —
Sunni militants and, more recently, Shiite death squads — military commanders
say keeping Iraqis alive has now moved to the center of the new strategy
proposed by President Bush.
For many Iraqis, the
pledge comes too late. The numbers reported by the United Nations were more
than tenfold the number of American deaths for the entire war. As previous
attempts to secure Baghdad have failed, tens of thousands of middle-class
Iraqis have given up and fled the country. Those who remain are becoming
increasingly radicalized as the violence draws them into a cycle of revenge.
The United Nations
report said an average of 94 Iraqis died every day in 2006, with about half the
deaths occurring in the capital. A majority died from gunshot wounds, in
execution-style killings that are a common method for death squads, both Sunni
and Shiite. The report registered the most lethal month as October, with deaths
declining slightly in November and December.
Violence between Sunnis
and Shiites, virtually unheard of in the early years of the war, has become the
main driver of the tallies.
have acknowledged that they underestimated the seriousness of the sectarian
killings, which took off after the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra last
year drew Shiites into the war. Before that, Sunni militants did most of the
killing. Now, the capital is mired in violence, as the two groups fight
bitterly over territory.
In the shootings,
bodies surface days later in sewers and garbage dumps. The report said that
most unidentified bodies were found in six neighborhoods of Baghdad, three
Sunni — Dora, Rashidiya and Adhamiya — and three Shiite — Sadr City, New
Baghdad and the hardscrabble slum of Shuala.
“It’s important to
identify the root cause of the violence,” said Gianni Magazzeni, chief of the
United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq’s Human Rights Office, which compiled
the report. “Lack of accountability for crimes generates the urge for justice
through armed groups.”
One result, described
by the report, is a society in collapse. At least 470,094 Iraqis have fled their
homes since February. The number of displaced Iraqis was the highest in the
embattled Sunni province of Anbar, where 10,105 families fled, followed by
Karbala in the south, Baghdad, and Dohuk in the north.
Iraqi government forces
also suffered painful losses. The report cited an Interior Ministry figure of
12,000 Iraqi security forces killed, both the Army and the police, since 2003.
The general breakdown
in order has led to a wave of crime, and many of the killings were part of