The number of Iraqi civilians killed in the nation's brutal civil conflict rose by more than a third last month despite a five-month-old surge in US troop levels, government figures showed yesterday.
At least 1,652 civilians were killed in Iraq last month, 33 percent more than in the previous month, figures compiled by the Iraqi health, defense and interior ministries showed.
Casualties continued to mount as the death toll from an attack by a suicide bomber driving a fuel truck packed with explosives in western Baghdad yesterday rose to 50 people, police said.
Sxity were wounded in the attack in Mansour District. Police said the bomber lured motorists queueing for petrol to his truck after earlier saying he had rammed into the line of vehicles.
Meanwhile, two critical reports emerged pointing to weaknesses in US efforts to rebuild and stabilize Iraq, which has been in the grip of several overlapping civil conflicts for more than four years.
Last month's civilian toll was slightly higher than the number for February, when the US began a "surge" in troops aimed at flooding Baghdad with reinforcements to stem Iraq's sectarian bloodletting.
The Iraqi government refuses to release official casualty figures, but the new numbers tally with the personal experience of many Baghdad residents, who insist the streets of the capital remain extremely dangerous.
"I was smart enough to abandon my house before the militia killed me, as it killed two of my friends," said a Sunni man who once worked as a perfume dealer in mainly Shiite east Baghdad before fleeing the city earlier this year.
"When the security crackdown was launched, I felt some hope, but it faded away and came to an end a couple of days ago when the same militia I escaped from killed another friend of mine and his brother," he said.
The man, who would not give his name for fear of his safety, said everyone in his neighborhood knows who killed the men, but will not speak out for fear of the local Shiite militia, which dominates the area.
Violence is mounting at a time when Iraq's beleaguered government is paralyzed by political infighting.
The main Sunni Arab political bloc said yesterday it was withdrawing from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition government over his failure to meet a list of demands.
The move is likely to complicate efforts by Maliki's shaky government to agree on a series of laws which Washington sees as crucial to bringing minority Sunni Arabs more closely into the political process and quelling sectarian violence.
The Accordance Front, which last week suspended the work of its six ministers in government, had wanted a greater say in security matters and had accused Maliki's Shiite led-coalition government of failing to consult it on key issues.
"The Accordance Front is announcing that is withdrawing from the government of Nouri al-Maliki and its deputy prime minister and the five ministers will present today [yesterday] their resignations," Accordance Front official Rafei Issawi told a news conference.
Six ministers loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr also quit Maliki's government in June in protest over his refusal to set a timetable for a US troop withdrawal. They have not yet been replaced.
Meanwhile, a US Government Accountability Office probe revealed the US military cannot account for 190,000 weapons issued to Iraq's beleaguered security forces in 2004 and 2005.