- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

12:22 p.m.

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government withheld recent casualty figures from the United Nations, fearing they would be used to present a grim picture of Iraq that would undermine the coalition’s security efforts, U.N. officials said today.

Working with its own figures, the United Nations released a new human rights report today saying that sectarian violence continued to claim the lives of a large number of Iraqi civilians in Sunni Arab and Shi’ite neighborhoods of Iraq’s capital despite the coalition’s new Baghdad security plan. Begun Feb. 14, it has increased U.S. and Iraqi troop levels in the capital.

The Iraqi government quickly responded by calling the U.N. report “inaccurate” and “unbalanced.”

The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) report said civilian casualties in the daily violence between Jan. 1 and March 31 remained high, concentrated in and around Baghdad.

The agency also expressed concern about the treatment of detainees under the U.S.-Iraqi operation to pacify the capital, saying that families and other people often were taken randomly into custody, with more than 3,000 people in detention by the end of March.

For the first time, UNAMI said, its assessment of the human rights situation in Iraq did not contain overall death figures from the Iraqi government because the government refused to release them, omitting what many had viewed as a rare, reliable indicator of suffering in Iraq.

The Iraqi government expressed deep reservations about the report in a statement that said the report is “inaccurate in presenting information” and “lacks credibility in many of its points. Also, it lacks balance in presenting the situation of the human rights situation in Iraq.”

“The publication of this unbalanced report … puts the credibility of the U.N. office in Iraq [at] stake and it aggravates the humanitarian crisis in Iraq instead of solving it,” the statement said.

U.N. human rights officer Ivana Vuco said the government did not officially give a reason for refusing to release the numbers but it apparently “was becoming increasingly concerned about the figures being used to portray the situation as very grim.”

However, in a number of follow-up meetings to the government decision, “we were told that there were concerns that the people would construe the figures to portray the situation negatively and that would further undermine their efforts to establish some kind of security and stability in the country,” she told reporters at the mission’s heavily fortified compound in Baghdad.

Mission spokesman Said Arikat said the reason appeared to be that after the publication of its last human rights report on Jan. 16, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office told UNAMI its mortality figures were exaggerated “but that our figures were taken credibly. They are probably among the most carefully screened figures.”

Numbers for Iraqi civilians killed since the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003 vary widely and are believed to be vastly underreported, in part because of political pressure.

The last U.N. report, issued in January, found that 34,452 civilians were killed last year, including 6,376 in November and December, based on information from the Iraqi Health Ministry, hospitals across the country and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad. Iraqi officials have complained that the numbers were too high.

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