The number of Iraqi civilians killed in July and August hit 6,599, a record high number that is far greater than initial estimates had suggested and points to the grave sectarian crisis gripping the country, the UN said on Wednesday.
The report from the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq's Human Rights office offered a grim assessment across a range of indicators, reporting worrying evidence of torture, unlawful detentions, the growth of sectarian militias and death squads and a rise in "honor killings" of women.
That raises new questions about the ability of US and Iraqi forces to bring peace to Baghdad, where the bulk of the violent deaths occurred. Iraq's government is "currently facing a generalized breakdown of law and order which presents a serious challenge to the institutions of Iraq," the report said.
According to the UN, which releases the figures every two months, violent civilian deaths in July reached an unprecedented high of 3,590 people, an average of more than 100 a day. Last month's toll was 3,009 people, the report said.
The lower August number may have been the result of a security crackdown in Baghdad, though it was partly offset by a rise in attacks elsewhere, including in the northern city of Mosul.
For the previous period, the UN had reported just under 6,000 deaths -- 2,669 in May and 3,149 in June. That was up from 1,129 in April, and 710 in January.
Of the total for July and August, the report said that 5,106 of the dead were from Baghdad.
The report attributed many of the deaths to the rising sectarian tensions that have pushed Iraq toward the verge of civil war.
"These figures reflect the fact that indiscriminate killings of civilians have continued throughout the country, while hundreds of bodies appear bearing signs of severe torture and execution style killing," the report said. "Such murders are carried out by death squads or by armed groups, with sectarian or revenge connotations."
At the heart of the UN findings are casualty figures that combine two counts: from the Ministry of Health, which records deaths reported by hospitals; and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad, which tallies the unidentified bodies it receives.
The UN investigators who compiled the report said it was likely that even those numbers were low. In July, for example, the Health Ministry reported no people killed in Anbar, the chaotic province that includes the extremely violent cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.
Also, the Medico-Legal Institute's number of 1,536 was the same as the number of violent deaths in Baghdad reported by the Iraqi Health Ministry earlier this month.
The US military had initially claimed a drastic drop in the death toll for August, but the estimate was revised upward after the US revealed it had not counted people killed by bombs, mortars, rockets or other mass attacks.
The report said torture was a major concern in Iraq and the bodies showed significant evidence of it.
"Bodies found at the Medico-legal Institute often bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin, broken bones [back, hands and legs], missing eyes, missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails," the report said.
The report also that said about 300,000 people had been displaced in Iraq since the bombing of a shrine in Samara in February.
The UN has also received several reports of Iraqi journalists facing prosecution for their reporting. In one case, three reporters working for a newspaper faced trial for articles criticizing a regional government.
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