BAGHDAD, Iraq—A new report on human rights violations in Iraq documents how devastatingly easy it is to die here—and how increasingly difficult it is to live.
The report, prepared by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, said a breakdown of law and order threatens the fabric of life. Militias, death squads, organized crime and people who are "taking the law into their own hands" are filling the vacuum left by a central government incapable of providing stability.
The report documented how perilous everyday life is in Iraq for lawyers, journalists, police recruits, travelers and street vendors.
Women are particularly vulnerable. Strict Islamic groups limit women's freedom of movement outside their homes and restrict their access to health care and education. In addition, there are reports of women facing threats and death when they're accused of damaging the honor of their families by having sex outside marriage or leaving home without permission.
In northern Iraq, for instance, "burning" was listed as the cause of death for half of the 112 women killed in Irbil and two-thirds of the 163 killed in Sulaimaniyah in the first six months of 2006. Several women's rights activists have told the United Nations that "fire accidents" often cover up "honor" crimes committed by the family.
During July and August, a record-high 6,599 people were killed in Iraq, including 5,106 in Baghdad, according to the report. Bodies showing up at the Baghdad morgue were missing teeth, skin and eyes and had burns from acid.
In an earlier report, at least 12 men were reported killed this year for being homosexuals. Extremist groups reportedly have said they would begin killing family members unless the men are turned over to them or killed.
Members of the Sabean-Mandean minority, whose religion combines Babylonian, pre-Islamic, Persian and Christian beliefs, are in danger of extinction in Iraq, where their history goes back thousands of years, because so many have been killed or forced to emigrate, the latest U.N. report said.
People taken hostage by gangs wearing police or Special Forces uniforms are being sold to other gangs. There are unconfirmed reports that many of those who have disappeared are being kept in illegal detention centers.
Many residents have reported receiving letters telling them to evacuate their homes, with instructions not to sell or rent the properties they'll leave behind. One man reported that he'd been beaten by members of a Sunni Muslim extremist group using electrical cables and iron bars to force him to tell his religious affiliation.
"The inability of state institutions to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice, and the resulting recourse of ordinary citizens to seek private retributive justice, risk polarizing Iraqi society to a previously unknown degree," the report said.
U.S. forces have made a crackdown on sectarian violence in Baghdad their priority in an operation with Iraqi forces called Operation Together Forward.
The U.S. general in charge of coalition forces in the city, Maj. Gen. James Thurman, said Friday that when the operation began in June, he asked the Iraqi Defense Ministry for a brigade, or about 3,000 troops. It so far has provided two battalions, or about 1,000 troops.
Thurman said the ministry was working on the problem and he expected he would get the additional troops within the next few weeks.
There are 15,000 U.S. troops in Baghdad and 54,000 Iraqi troops.
(McClatchy correspondent Drew Brown contributed to this report from Washington.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.