The number of Iraqi civilians being murdered or killed in the current fighting has been revealed for the first time by the United Nations. It is far higher than previous estimates.
Some 3,149 people were killed in June alone, or more than 100 a day, and the figure is likely to rise higher this month because of tit-for-tat massacres by Sunni and Shia Muslims. Some 120 Shias were killed in two attacks earlier in the week and gunmen yesterday kidnapped 20 employees of a government agency in Baghdad looking after Sunni mosques and shrines.
The death toll has risen every month this year and totalled 5,818 in May and June. This far exceeds the number given by the Iraqi Coalition Casualty Count, a web site that compiles casualty figures based on published accounts, which said that 840 civilians died in June. Overall 14,000 civilians were killed in the first half of the year says the UN.
Ever since the invasion in 2003 the US military and later US-supported Iraqi governments have sought to conceal the number of Iraqi civilians being killed. The US Army for long denied that it counted the number of civilians killed by its soldiers. The Iraqi Ministry of Health also refused to reveal to the UN the civilian casualty figures.
Now, for the first time, the health ministry in Baghdad has told the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, which publishes a bimonthly report on human rights, the exact death toll recorded by hospitals around the country. The central morgue in Baghdad provides figures for unidentified bodies, of which there were 1,595 in June. In the first six months of the year the number of Iraqi civilians dying violently rose by 77 per cent.
The UN report paints a picture of Iraqi society dissolving under the stress of cumulative violence. Nobody is safe. A tennis coach and two players were shot dead in Baghdad for wearing shorts. Militias threaten the families of homosexuals "stating they will begin killing family members unless men are handed over or killed by the family". Sectarian differences are behind most killings. Assassinations are often carried out by the security forces themselves. On 3 June, for instance, 50 police cars surrounded the al-Arab mosque in Basra and killed 10 of the 20 people inside. Sunni suicide bombers attack crowded Shia mosques and markets in order to cause maximum casualties.
Kidnapping, often of children, is common and the victims are frequently killed regardless of whether or not they have paid a ransom. "In one case the body of 12-year-old Osama was reportedly found by the Iraqi police in a plastic bag after his family paid a ransom of $30,000 [£16,300]. The boy had been sexually assaulted by the kidnappers, before being hanged by his own clothing. The police captured members of this gang who confessed to raping and killing many boys and girls before Osama."
Many Iraqis have fled the country, mostly to Jordan and Syria, to avoid the violence. Syria now has 351,000 and Jordan 450,000 of these refugees, including 40 per cent of all Iraqi professionals, according to the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. It is increasingly difficult to get into Jordan from Iraq but Syria still issues visas easily.
All of the 18 Iraqi provinces are dangerous, outside the three Kurdish provinces. The health ministry revealed for the first time in June that 50,000 Iraqis have been killed violently since 2003, but added that this was probably an under-estimate. Medical care for the wounded is declining because so many doctors have left the country. The ministry says 106 doctors and 164 nurses have been killed.
Doctors in Baghdad hospitals complain that even the operating theatres are not safe because soldiers or militiamen will order them to stop an operation half way through.Reuse content