Fri, Aug 11, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Baghdad's morgue had 1,850 gunshot victims last month

AGENCIES , BAGHDAD

Almost 2,000 bodies were taken to Baghdad's morgue last month, the highest tally in five months of rising sectarian bloodshed which has forced the US to boost troop levels in the capital to head off a civil war.

The city's main morgue handled the corpses of 1,850 people from its immediate region alone, most of them gunshot victims, Iraqi health ministry spokesman Qasim Yahia said yesterday.

"The figure for June was 1,350 and this increased to 1,850 last month," he said, amid ongoing sectarian and insurgent violence around the city.

Yahia said provincial morgues around the country had also handled many dead, but he did not have the figures.

"Most of the cases have gunshot wounds to the head. Some of them were strangled and others were beaten to death with clubs," morgue assistant manager Doctor Abdul Razzaq al-Obaidi said.

The US military estimates that around 80 percent of violent attacks in Iraq happen in and around the capital, which is in the grip of a vicious urban war between rival Sunni and Shiite death squads.

The grim statistics came as a new poll showed the Iraq war had become more unpopular with Americans and four Iraqis suspected of involvement in the abduction of American journalist Jill Carroll were arrested by coalition forces.

The CNN poll showed that 60 percent of Americans were against the US war in Iraq, the highest level of opposition since the 2003 invasion, and a majority would back a partial withdrawal of US forces by year's end.

Carroll was freed unharmed in March after 82 days in captivity. More than 200 foreigners and thousands of Iraqis have been kidnapped since the 2003 invasion.

Last month's morgue toll is the largest since the aftermath of the February bombing of the Shiite Golden Mosque of Samarra, which triggered an explosion of sectarian violence.

Iraq's Health, Interior and Defense ministries consistently provide lower figures than those released by the morgue.

Figures from those ministries showed about 1,000 civilians were killed across Iraq last month in "terrorism" attacks.

Mounting sectarian violence has prompted the US to reinforce troop levels in Baghdad, which is regarded as the key to security in the whole country but is increasingly divided along sectarian lines.

About 6,000 additional Iraqi forces and 3,500 US soldiers of the 172nd Stryker Brigade combat team are being deployed in the Baghdad area and are expected to start systematically clearing neighborhoods of militants and insurgents.

US Major General William Caldwell, chief US military spokesman in Iraq, said on Wednesday that US and Iraqi forces had conducted operations against 10 death squads throughout Baghdad in the last week, and also found 222 roadside bombs.

Sunni Arab leaders have accused Shiite militias of running death squads, a charge they deny.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed to confront the armed militias, but must tread carefully as some of these groups have close ties to parties in his government.

Maliki said a consensus was building between religious leaders and prominent tribes to condemn the killings, and he was echoed by US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad.

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