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U.N.: Iraqi civilian death toll reaches new monthly high

Story Highlights

• The U.N. says more than 7,000 Iraqi civilians died in September and October
• October was deadliest month since the 2003 U.S. invasion, the report says
• Sectarian strife and terrorism are to blame for the violence, the report finds
• Attacks have risen against journalists, women, minorities and professionals
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Insurgent attacks in Iraq killed 3,709 civilians last month, making October the deadliest month since the war began in 2003, according to U.N. figures.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq, which issues bimonthly human rights reports on the war-torn country, came out with its findings for September and October on Wednesday.

September had 3,345 civilian deaths -- which, along with October, would bring to 7,054 the number of violent deaths during the two-month period, according to the U.N. tally.

Baghdad alone had no less than 4,985 deaths, "most of them as a result of gunshot wounds," said the U.N. Assistance Mission, using figures provided by the Iraqi Health Ministry.

The figures were slightly higher than in July and August, when 6,599 civilians were killed.

The number of civilian deaths has been rising all year since the February bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, with sectarian violence escalating greatly after that attack.

Sunni-Shiite hostilities, with revenge killings, mosque attacks, and militias and death squads prominent, were central to Iraq's problems, the report found.

The report attributes the grinding violence to "terrorist acts and sectarian strife, including revenge killings, fueled by insurgent, militia and criminal activities."

Such attacks "are the main source of violence in the country, adversely affecting the displacement of individuals and entire communities," it said.

And that "violence in Iraq has been increasingly acquiring a sectarian nature, with each attack generating a surge of revenge attacks in Baghdad and around the country."

In addition, civilians face "roadside bombs, drive-by shootings, kidnappings, police abuse, crime, military operations and cross fire between rival gangs, or between insurgents and police and MNF-I (Multi-National Forces-Iraq)," the report said.

The report noted "allegations of criminal and militia infiltration into the police," adding that "the inability of law enforcement agencies and the justice system to protect the population of Iraq" enables "militias and criminal gangs to operate with growing impunity."

The U.N. mission said it welcomed tougher vetting of police personnel by the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

Journalists, other groups targeted

Among the ominous developments noted in September and October:

  • Media were victims of attacks. Eighteen journalists were killed during this period, and two satellite TV stations -- Al-Shaabiya and Al Iraqiya -- were attacked.
  • Minorities have been attacked, including Christians, Sabean-Mandeans and Palestinian refugees.
  • More women have been subjected to religious extremism or honor killings, and non-Muslim women have been "forced to wear a head scarf and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives."
  • Professionals -- such as judges, lawyers and intellectuals; political, tribal and religious leaders; government officials; and members of security forces -- have been targeted.
  • Education has suffered, with schools not opening, and teachers and students "forced to leave the country."
  • Mass kidnappings of civilians, with bodies being subjected to torture and execution-style killings. Witnesses have seen perpetrators wearing militia attire and police or army uniforms.
  • The number of missing persons has risen.
  • Security concerns persist in the detention of prisoners, with "arbitrary detention, grievous conditions of detention, allegations of torture and mistreatment" and prisoners.
  • Grim demographic changes

    The sectarian violence has affected entire communities and spurred thousands to flee their homes, the report said.

    "In some areas, neighborhoods have been split up or inhabitants have been forced to flee to other areas or even to neighboring countries in search of safety," it said.

    Sectarian violence has led to the displacement of more than 418,000 people, and military operations have forced 15,240 to leave their homes since the February shrine bombing, the report said, citing estimates from the U.N. refugee agency.

    In addition, 1.6 million have left the country altogether since 2003, and some 100,000 per month have left Iraq during the past few months, the report said, again citing estimates from the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

    The report noted the failure of an international pan-Muslim initiative to bring together the warring religious groups as an example of the obstacles toward peace.

    The October gathering in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca between Iraqi Shiite and Sunni clerics was sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an international Muslim group.

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