UN says 34,000 Iraqis killed in 2006

By Claudia Parsons

REUTERS

January 16, 2007

BAGHDAD, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Tuesday more than 34,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in violence last year and it chided the government for allowing the killers, some of them inside the security forces, to go unpunished.

Twin blasts that killed 15 people near a mosque in central Baghdad were reminder of the daily violence that claims hundreds of lives every week in the capital.

The government is preparing to launch a security plan backed by U.S. reinforcements and billed as a "last chance" for Iraq.

Sectarian tensions have been inflamed by the botched execution on this week of two of Saddam Hussein's close aides.

The U.N. human rights chief in Baghdad, Gianni Magazzeni, told a news conference that 34,452 civilians were killed and more than 36,000 wounded in 2006.

Magazzeni accused the government of failing to provide security and blamed some of the violence on militias colluding with or working inside the police and army.

The figures are much higher than any statistics issued by Iraqi government officials. The government itself branded the United Nations' last two-monthly report in November grossly exaggerated and banned its civil servants from releasing data.

"During 2006, 34,452 civilians have been violently killed," Magazzeni said. "The focus of this report is actually on the need for the government to increase its action with respect to the rule of law.

"Law enforcement agencies do not provide effective protection to the population of Iraq," he said, adding that "militias act in collusion with or have infiltrated" the security forces.

According to the latest U.N. report, based on data from hospitals compiled by the Health Ministry and from the Baghdad morgue, 6,376 civilians were killed in November and December.

Of 4,731 people killed in Baghdad in November and December, most died of gunshot wounds, he said -- an indication they were victims of death squad killings rather than the car bombings that are also a feature of the Iraqi capital.



DOUBLE BOMBING

A roadside bomb followed by a blast from a motorcycle rigged with explosives killed 15 people and wounded 70 near a Sunni mosque in central Baghdad on Tuesday, an interior ministry source said.

A hospital source said at least 11 bodies and many wounded had been brought to the hospital. U.S. forces helped the wounded. A police source said it appeared the blasts were timed so that the second would hit rescue services who came to help.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, with the help of some 20,000 more U.S. troops being deployed by President George W. Bush, is preparing a major crackdown on sectarian killers in Baghdad -- including militias loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and other fellow Shi'ite allies of Maliki.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said on Monday the plan was a "defining moment" for Iraq. Senior Shi'ite politicians call it a "last chance" to avert civil war and save a government that represents Shi'ites' first real taste of power in Iraq for centuries.

Sectarian tensions were fuelled again this week by the executions on Monday of Saddam Hussein's half-brother and a former judge convicted with him for crimes against humanity.

Mourners came on Tuesday to pay their respects to the two who were buried near Saddam in the Sunni Arab bastion of Awja, near Tikrit. Government efforts to avoid a repeat of uproar over the ousted leader's rowdy execution were thwarted when his half -brother's head was severed by the noose.

Many of the government's Shi'ite Muslim supporters rejoiced at the death of Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam's once feared intelligence chief who was accused of sending people to death in a meat grinder. But voices in Iraq's Sunni Arab minority saw the decapitation as a deliberate sectarian act of revenge.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had pleaded for their lives. "He regrets that, despite pleas from both himself and the High Commissioner for Human Rights to spare the lives of the two co-defendants, they were both executed," Ban's spokeswoman said.