- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2006

BAGHDAD (AP) — More than 2,660 Iraqi civilians were slain in the capital last month amid a wave of sectarian killings and insurgent attacks, an increase of 400 over the month before, according to figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry.

The increase came despite an intensified U.S.-Iraqi sweep of Baghdad that was begun in mid-August to try to put down the wave of violence that has swept over the capital.

The September numbers come as a controversial new study contends that nearly 655,000 Iraqis have died in the three-year-old conflict in Iraq — more than 10 times higher than other independent estimates of the toll.

President Bush dismissed the study’s estimate as “just not credible.”

Mr. Bush, who in the past has suggested 30,000 civilian deaths in Iraq, would not give a figure for overall fatalities. “A lot of innocent people have lost their life,” he said at a press conference in Washington.

Also yesterday, the Shi’ite-dominated parliament passed a law allowing the formation of federal regions in Iraq, despite opposition from Sunni lawmakers and some Shi’ites who say it will dismember the country and spur sectarian violence.

The Sunni coalition in parliament and two Shi’ite parties tried to prevent a vote on a bill by boycotting yesterday’s session to keep the 275-seat body from reaching the necessary 50 percent quorum.

But the quorum was reached with 140 lawmakers, who voted on each of the bill’s some 200 articles individually, passing them all unanimously.

The new study, published yesterday on the Web site of the British medical journal Lancet (www.thelancet.com), was based on a survey of households in Iraq, not a body count, and quickly raised skepticism among some Iraq analysts.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said it was difficult “with any certainty” to estimate the number of Iraqi civilians who have died, and that the department does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.

An accurate count of total Iraqi deaths since the war’s start has been difficult to obtain. According to an Associated Press tally, at least 13,414 Iraqis had been killed in war-related violence through Tuesday since the new government took office on April 28, 2005. Of those, 9,300 were civilians.

A private group called Iraqi Body Count says it has recorded about 44,000 to 49,000 civilian Iraqi deaths.

The figures for the number of civilian deaths last month in Baghdad came in an official monthly report from the Health Ministry to the Cabinet, two senior ministry officials said.

The report said 2,667 civilians had died violent deaths last month — an average of 89 a day. By comparison, 2,222 persons died violently in August in Baghdad, according to a U.N. report published last month.

Attacks killed at least 14 persons yesterday as the U.S. military confirmed that a fire at an ammunition dump in Baghdad that set off a series of explosions Tuesday night was caused by a mortar fire by insurgents.

The Islamic Army in Iraq, a nationalist insurgent group, took responsibility for the attack on the U.S. Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad near the Dora neighborhood that caused stockpiles of tank and artillery shells to explode through the night in spectacular bursts of flame and sparks.

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