Sectarian violence continued to claim the lives of a large number of Iraqi civilians in Sunni Arab and Shiite neighbourhoods of Iraq’s capital, despite the coalition’s new Baghdad security plan, the UN said today.
In its first human rights report since the security plan was launched on February 14 – and began increasing US and Iraqi troops levels in the capital – the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said civilian casualties in the daily violence between January and March remained high, concentrated in and around Baghdad.
American troops are facing increasing danger as they step up their presence in outposts and police stations in Baghdad and areas surrounding the city, as part of the security crackdown to which US President George Bush has committed an extra 30,000 troops.
Thousands of Iraqi soldiers are also being deployed in the streets of the capital in an attempt to pacify it.
“While government officials claimed an initial drop in the number of killings in the latter half of February following the launch of the Baghdad security plan, the number of reported casualties rose again in March,” the study said.
But UNAMI also said that for the first time since it began issuing quarterly reports on the human rights situation in Iraq, the new January 1-March 31 one did not contain overall mortality figures from Iraq’s Ministry of Health because it refused to release them.
“UNAMI emphasises again the utmost need for the Iraqi government to operate in a transparent manner, and does not accept the government’s suggestion that UNAMI used the (previous) mortality figures in an inappropriate fashion,” the report said.
The UN agency said that after the publication of its last human rights report about Iraq on January 16, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s office told UNAMI its mortality figures were exaggerated, “although they were in fact official figures compiled and provided by a government ministry”.
The new UNAMI report said that on March 1 Iraq’s Ministry of Interior announced that 1,646 civilians were killed in Iraq in February, most of them in Baghdad, but that “it is unclear on what basis these figures were compiled.”
UNAMI said that even though its current report’s evidence could not be numerically substantiated with government figures, it showed continued high levels of violence throughout the reporting period, including large scale indiscriminate killings and assassinations by insurgents, militias and other armed groups.
“In February and March, sectarian violence claimed the lives of large numbers of civilians, including women and children, in both Shia and Sunni neighbourhoods of Baghdad,” the report said.