Iraqi Death Toll Rose Above 3,400 in July

By EDWARD WONG and DAMIEN CAVE

New York Times

August 15, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 15 — 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 started 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 total number of civilian deaths that month, 3,438, is a 9 percent increase over the tally in June and nearly double the toll in January.

The rising numbers indicate that sectarian violence is spiraling out of control and seem to bolster an assertion that many senior Iraqi officials and American military analysts have been making in recent months: that the country is already embroiled in a civil war, not just slipping toward one, and that the American-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 Nuri Kamal al-Maliki on June 14 has not quelled the violence. The plan, much touted by top Iraqi and American officials at the time, relied on setting up more Iraqi-run checkpoints to stymie movement by insurgents. Those officials have since acknowledged the plan has fallen far short of its aims, forcing the American military to add thousands of 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 in July, more than half of the total deaths recorded in the country. The morgue tally for July was an 18 percent increase over June.

The American ambassador said in an interview last week that Iraq’s political leaders had 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,” the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, said.

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

The American command has added nearly 4,000 American soldiers to Baghdad by extending the tour of a combat brigade. Under a new security plan aimed at overhauling Mr. Maliki’s efforts, some of the city’s most violent southern and western areas are now virtually occupied block-to-block by American and Iraqi forces, with entire neighborhoods transformed into miniature police states after being sealed off by blast walls and concertina wire.

When the tally for 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, or 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 injured outside the city in July, a 25 percent increase over June.

United Nations officials and military analysts say the morgue and ministry numbers almost certainly reflect severe undercounts, caused by 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 number, he said in a recent report.

The United Nations has been tracking civilian casualty figures by collating numbers from the Health Ministry and Baghdad morgue. Last month, it announced that the Iraqi government’s numbers indicated that 3,149 violent deaths had occurred in June, or an average of more than 100 a day. The statistics were significantly higher than previous civilian death tolls, and indicated that the news media had drastically underreported the level of violence in Iraq. The United States government and military have declined to release any overall figures on Iraqi civilian casualties, or even said whether they are keeping count.

But Iraqi and American officials agree that civilian deaths had been much lower before wide-scale sectarian violence erupted in the wake of the Feb. 22 bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in the town of Samarra, and has only gotten worse since..

In recent weeks, Ambassador Khalilzad and the top generals have warned that Iraq could slide toward full-blown civil war, especially if the capital continues fragmenting into ethnic or sectarian enclaves controlled by militias, as has been happening for months.

Much of the responsibility rests on Iraqi politicians, many of whom have ties to militias, Mr. Khalilzad said. “I believe that there have been forces associated with people in the government from both the Shia and Sunni sides that have participated in this,” he said of the violence.

Iraqi politicians are furiously lashing out at each other. On Monday, the speaker of Parliament, a conservative Sunni Arab, said he was considering stepping down because of animosity from the Kurdish and Shiite political blocs.

The move to oust the speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, appears to have thrown the main Sunni Arab bloc he belongs to, the Iraqi Consensus Front, into disarray. On Tuesday, a senior member of the bloc, Khalaf al-Elayan, said it rejected any call for Mr. Mashhadani’s resignation. Another Sunni leader, Adnan al-Dulaimi, said in an interview that Mr. Mashhadani should step down. Mr. Dulaimi is considered a possible replacement.

On Tuesday, Shiite gunmen and Iraqi military forces exchanged gunfire in Karbala for several hours near one of Iraq’s holiest Shiite shrines. Witnesses said the fighting forced the Iraqi Army to block entrances to the city and impose a curfew, prohibiting all cars and warning residents not to carry guns.

In Mosul, a suicide bomber detonated a truck packed with explosives, killing at least five civilians and wounding nearly 50 near the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of President Jalal Talabani.

One of the deadliest attacks in recent weeks took place in southern Baghdad on Sunday night, when bombs, mortars and rockets killed at least 57 people in a Shiite neighborhood, according to Iraqi officials. The American military said Tuesday that the death toll had grown to at least 63 Iraqis and that the cause had been identified: two car bombs that ignited a gas line.

A day earlier, the American military said the deaths were caused solely by a gas main explosion and not by any attack, but now says that conclusion was based on “incomplete information.”

The well-organized attack on Sunday came despite the fact that American and Iraqi troops have flooded areas of southern Baghdad. The combined operation has focused most visibly on regulating traffic at checkpoints and searching for weapons at every home and building in troubled areas.

The American military said Tuesday that Dawra, the first area searched, was being sealed off with concrete barriers and blast walls. It added that the number of roadside bombs found in the area each week since the operation started Aug. 7 has decreased to 4 from 25.

Sahar al-Nageeb and Qais Mizher contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article.