The death toll of 31 days in Iraq

In this war-torn country, nobody is safe from bloodshed. In Ramadi, Kirkuk and Basra, they count the dead as the violence worsens
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The Independent Online

From north to south, from east to west, violence and insecurity have gripped the entirety of Iraq. In January alone, at least 2,000 civilians, Iraqi security forces and US and British troops were killed in violence across the nation.

As President George Bush dispatches an additional 21,500 combat troops ­ and at least as many again in a supporting role ­ to try to bring calm to Baghdad, new figures suggest that violent death is becoming an everyday occurrence across all of Iraq and in cities that rarely make the headlines. In recent weeks places such as Kut and Mosul have reported civilian deaths as a result of gunfire or explosions.

"There has long been this idea that if you control Baghdad you can control the whole country, but that just does not make sense," said Nir Rosen, a fellow at the Washington-based New America Foundation who has spent more than two years in Iraq reporting on the violence. "Iraq has fragmented. I don't think Baghdad has any relevance to what is happening in Kirkuk, Mosul, Basra or Ramadi."

In December, Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, said: "I think it's still the case that 80 per cent of the violence that we are hearing about is taking place... in four provinces out of the 18."

Of Mr Bush's plan, Mr Rosen said: "It would not make a difference if we sent 100,000 troops... I cannot imagine how they think they can succeed. Americans are not the solution."

Available data suggests that Baghdad is the most perilous place in Iraq. Just last weekend, at least 132 people were killed and more than 300 wounded when a suicide bomber detonated explosives in a lorry in the city's Sadriya market.

But it appears that few, if any, parts of the country are safe. Indeed, the most recent figures, collated by The New York Times, may well underestimate the levels of violence in other parts of the country because they rely on media reports, the Iraqi government and the US military, which almost certainly include only a portion of the numbers killed.

Professor Richard Garfield, an epidemiologist at Columbia University and co-author of a 2004 study which estimated that at least 100,000 Iraqis had died since the 2003 invasion, said: "One of the myths that Washington has been pushing is that it is pretty peaceful in Iraq and that the problems only exist in four governates. But if you only count [casualties] in four governates that is what you will find." He added: "There are lots of cities with high amounts of fighting that we don't even know about."

Almost four years after the US and British invasion of Iraq, reliable statistics on the human cost of the war remain scarce. A report, published last October by Dr Garfield's colleagues, estimated that 655,000 civilians and security personnel had lost their lives.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about two million Iraqis ­ about 8 per cent of the pre-war population ­ have fled the country. An additional 1.7 million people are displaced inside Iraq.

Violence continued to rock Baghdad yesterday, where an Iraqi general took formal control of the security operation. Reports said at least 38 people were killed in bomb and mortar attacks.

Meanwhile, the Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview yesterday that the Bush administration does not have the vision to bring peace.

"We're not the only player, we're not the single player. But we are the main player in this issue," he said. "Our role is going to be through supporting the dialogue between the different parties inside Iraq with support from the other parties, like the Americans and any other country in the world."