Iraqi Civilian Deaths Soar in October
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
A grim snapshot today of the conflict in Iraq and its toll on civilians. A report by the U.N. mission in Baghdad says that over 3,700 Iraqis were killed in the month of October. That is the highest one month toll since the U.S. invasion of 2003. Just as earlier assessments, the U.N. report says sectarian attacks are now the main source of violence in Iraq, rather than the ongoing insurgency against U.S. troops.
NPR's Jaime Tarabay joins us now from Baghdad. Jaime, has there been any Iraqi reaction to this latest U.N. report?
JAIME TARABAY: Well, the first real reaction that we've seen from the Iraqi government is just an outright dismissal of the numbers. Ali Gaba(ph) is the spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and he says the numbers are inaccurate and exaggerated and that the government actually has its own numbers and might release them later.
Now I've actually spoken to people at the Interior Ministry, including officials who are very close to the minister, and I've been told that they do actually keep track of civilian casualties but they simply will not release them because, in the words of one official who wanted to remain anonymous, it would cause a panic.
So we have very good, reliable sources in Baghdad's central morgue and we ran this U.N. number by them and they also think that it's even higher than 3,700. Just in one week, the morgue officials said that there was a week when the morgue was receiving 150 bodies a day for several days. So he's not at all surprised by the number and thinks it's actually even more than that.
NORRIS: So despite those official claims of inaccuracy or exaggeration, I understand there's been more violence in Baghdad today.
TARABAY: Yes, just in Baghdad alone a journalist was killed, two bodyguards for the head of the Iraqi Parliament were shot dead, a roadside bomb in East Baghdad killed one person and the Baghdad morgue says that it received about 78 bodies. And of those, more than 50 were unidentified. They were all killed execution style with bullets to the head.
Now I have to stress, this is just a snapshot of what we see here just in Baghdad. We don't have the ability to collect all the details for what goes on in the rest of the country.
NORRIS: Jaime, the U.N. report also provides new figures about the number of Iraqis forced from their homes because of the violence. Could you tell us about those statistics?
TARABAY: The U.N. report says that for this year, at least up until now, at least 70,000 families have been internally displaced. Last year it was almost 200,000. These are people who are moving out of their homes because they're either Shiites and being threatened by Sunnis, or Sunnis threatened by Shiites, or they belong to one of the minority religions that also exist in Iraq. The report says that attacks against Christians have intensified in the past two months and other groups are being targeted by extremists or forced to leave their homes as well.
Iraqi civilians are the victims of terrorist acts, roadside bombs, drive by shootings, crossfire by rival gangs, kidnappings, military operations, crime. The list just goes on and on.
NORRIS: And it appears that the U.N. is also quite critical of the performance of the Iraqi security forces.
TARABAY: Yeah. And for many Iraqis, this is exactly where the real problem is. The U.N. says it's still getting reports about rampant abuse and torture carried out in detention cells, something that was supposed to have been addressed months ago.
The Interior Ministry, which is accused of allowing Shiite commando units to hold prisoners and treat them in miserable conditions, has fired some 3,000 people and arrested over 50, but the abuse still appears to be going on. The U.N. says it also receives reports that Iraqi police and security forces are either infiltrated or they act alongside militias. Just in this past week we saw evidence of that, the mass kidnappings that were carried out by men in police uniforms, the kidnapping of a deputy health minister who was taken from his home by men dressed as policemen.
We hear about the collusion. We hear reports about death squads driving with bodies in the trunks of their cars. They pass through police checkpoints and police know there are bodies inside. They just wave the gunmen through. This happens within the police force, which has largely been infiltrated by Shiite militias.
All the kidnappings and all the killings that seem to happen under the police force's watch give Iraqis absolutely no confidence at all that the security forces are here and that they will protect them. So they rely on their own militias and their own tribes. They just don't trust the police here anymore.
NORRIS: Thank you, Jaime.
TARABAY: You're welcome.
NORRIS: That was NPR's Jaime Tarabay speaking to us from Baghdad.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.