October a Deadly Month for Iraqi Civilians

A new United Nations report says more than 3,700 Iraqi civilians were killed last month, the highest toll since the U.S. invasion. Alex Chadwick speaks with New York Times Baghdad correspondent Ed Wong about the latest developments.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. Coming up, five major challenges facing Senator John McCain and his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. We'll hear from Slate.com's chief political correspondent John Dickerson.

I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

First, to Iraq for this newly released and very grim statistic, a measure of how things are going there. The number of Iraqi civilians killed last month was the highest in any month since the U.S. invasion three and a half years ago.

There have been disputed counts of Iraqi civilian deaths in recent months. This one comes from the U.N. It says the number of civilian deaths in October was 3,709. The report was issued at a news conference at Baghdad today.

Also, Iraqi officials say the type of violence is changing in the last few months along with torture and execution-style murders by militias and gangs. There's much more sectarian violence.

I'm joined from Baghdad by Ed Wong of the New York Times. Ed, what accounts for the increase in violence in October?

Mr. ED WONG (New York Times): Well there's a couple of different factors. One, it was Ramadan. And Ramadan has traditionally been a time when militants have stepped up their attacks partly for religious reasons. This year it was a little bit different in that there were both a surge in attacks against Americans and a surge in attacks against Iraqis.

And also we're seeing a change in the nature of the attacks as you mentioned. Like we're seeing a lot more attacks where it's more execution style, less - and those seem to be overtaking car bombs in terms of the cause of most of the deaths.

CHADWICK: And are these murders, these execution-style murders, are they blamed on the sectarian violence, as we say, battles between the Shiites and the Sunnis?

Mr. WONG: It is blamed on sectarian violence. Basically, the cycle sectarian violence really ramped up starting in February when there was a bombing of a Shiite shrine up in the north. A share of militias basically took to the streets.

They had been fairly restrained before and that bombing, basically, unleashed them. And since then, in the months since, we've seen a steady growth in the mild sectarian violence across Iraq.

CHADWICK: Ed, let me note that President Bush and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are going to meet in one week. They're supposed to discuss the deteriorating security situation in Iraq.

But they're holding this meeting in Jordan. They've announced that they're holding it in Jordan. So, they can't even meet in Iraq.

Mr. WONG: Right. President Bush has been into Iraq twice, both of them pretty much just for photo ops. The first one was definitely just a photo op when he paraded around with a fake turkey on Thanksgiving with some troops.

And the second, he came in and he actually surprised the prime minister. The prime minister wasn't even told of his visit because the security situation was so dire. And it wasn't until he landed that Prime Minister al-Maliki realized he was in the country.

So, because they obviously want to plan some of the talking points ahead in advance I think they had to arrange, you know, the meeting in Amman rather than in Baghdad.

CHADWICK: You know, about a month ago there were various kinds of statements from the White House and from the government of Iraq that seemed to be in conflict about how to handle the security situation there.

Is this meant to patch that up? Is that kind of split still ongoing?

Mr. WONG: In Washington we're seeing a debate about troop draw-down levels for the Americans and how quickly to hand over security and whether even to increase the level of American troops here by, say, as much as 20,000 over the short term.

So I believe that the Iraqi government would still like more control of security. And I think we're seeing this sort of coming to a head here, as the leaders have to meet to discuss these points.

CHADWICK: Ed Wong reporting from Baghdad for the New York Times. Ed, thanks again.

Mr. WONG: Thanks a lot, Alex.

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