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IRAQ: U.N.'s Iraq report still missing casualty count

December 3, 2008 |  9:03 am

The latest United Nations report on the human rights situation in Iraq once again does not include the number of Iraqis killed in bombings, sectarian murders and other war-related violence, but U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura says that should change when the next report comes out.

For years, the regularly issued reports have been considered a barometer of the progress, setbacks, successes and failings of Iraqi and U.S. officials overseeing life in Iraq, and they take into account everything from prison conditions to women's rights. Until April 2007, the reports also included mortality rates based on numbers provided by government ministries, hospitals and medical officials. But after the January 2007 U.N. report came out and estimated that 34,452 Iraqis had been killed in war-related violence in 2006, the Iraqi government refused to give out the numbers anymore. It had put the 2006 death toll at 12,357.

As The Times wrote at the time, the official and unofficial reasons given by the government for withholding numbers varied. Publicly, Iraq's government said it did not have the organizational capabilities to ensure accurate counting of war victims. But privately, U.N. officials at the time said the Iraqis were worried that the large numbers would tarnish the country's image, so they decided to withhold information.

"The truth, as usual, is in between," de Mistura said at Tuesday's briefing presenting the newest report, the 13th in the series. He said pressure from the United Nations had led to the expectation that the next report, which will cover the last six months of 2008, will include mortality rates again.

If so, they should be far lower than the earlier reports. According to numbers provided by sources inside Iraqi ministries, who are not authorized to release such figures, the monthly death tolls from war-related violence have been dropping steadily for the last year. In early 2007, monthly death tolls topped 2,000. Last October, the total was 278, the lowest since the start of the war in March 2003.

Last month saw the first increase in several months, with 339 Iraqis reported killed. U.S. military officials say the number of attacks, though, are at the lowest since 2003 and say they do not see the November increase as a sign of an uptick in violence or an expansion of insurgent activities.

In presenting the new U.N. report, de Mistura said there was "no question" of a significant improvement in Iraq's security situation and that this was giving Iraqi officials an opportunity to make changes to bring lasting peace. These changes should include improving prison conditions for tens of thousands of detainees and prosecuting "honor" killings of women by male relatives or people hired by male relatives to punish women for allegedly bringing shame on their families.

The U.N. envoy said that in one detention center, 123 detainees were squeezed inside a cell measuring about 150 square feet. Regarding "honor" killings, de Mistura there were rumors that men could pay $100 to $120 to someone to kill a female relative. Asked if he could confirm the stories, de Mistura said he could not but added, "I would not be totally surprised."

See the full report here.

--Tina Susman in Baghdad

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