Iraqi Death Toll Reaches New Hihe

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THE death toll of civilians in Iraq reached a new high of 3,709 in October, with sectarian violence to blame for most of the killings, a United Nations report said on Wednesday.

‘Sectarian violence seems to be the main cause,’ the report said, adding the death toll for September was 3,345.

The figures based on data provided by the Baghdad health ministry and morgues compared with a previous high of 3,590 in July.

The report, prepared by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, said ‘the influence of armed militias is growing and torture continues to be rampant’ in the war-torn country.

‘Hundreds of bodies continued to appear in different areas of Baghdad handcuffed, blindfolded and bearing signs of torture and execution-style killing,’ the report said.

‘Many witnesses reported that perpetrators wear militia attire and even police or army uniforms.’

The report said those killed in September and October included 351 women and 110 children.

‘The civilian population of Iraq continues to be victims of terrorist acts, roadside bombs, drive-by shootings, cross fire between rival gangs, or between police and insurgents, kidnappings, military operations, crime and police abuse,’ the report said.

But ‘sectarian violence seems to be the main cause.’

The UN also painted a grim picture of conditions for women in Iraq.

‘The situation of women has continued to deteriorate with increasing numbers becoming victims of either religious extremists or honour killings. Some non-Muslim women are forced to wear a headscarf and to be accompanied by male relatives or spouses.’

‘Kidnappings associated with rape and sex slavery have also occurred.’

It said arbitrary detentions without arrest warrants and allegations of torture were also serious concerns.

The UN mission regularly received reports that security forces were either ‘infiltrated or act in collusion with militias, while police and military security operations continued to be based on massive sweeps’, the report said.

It said the government, under mounting criticism, started a vetting process which had led to the removal of at least 3,000 members of the interior ministry on allegations of human rights abuses and corruption.

Attacks on the media have also increased with 18 journalists killed in the past two months, while minorities continue to be targets.

* British Foreign Secretary Margaret Becket said yesterday that control of Basra may be handed back to the Iraqi authorities next Spring.

British troops are then expected to be transferred to Afghanistan.