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Baghdad's death toll reaches a new high

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Iraqis are dying in record numbers and fleeing by the tens of thousands from an anarchic nation where armed men rule the streets and there's little faith in government institutions, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday.

The 3,709 Iraqis killed in October was the highest monthly toll since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Hundreds of the bodies turned up bound and blindfolded, with signs of torture and execution-style killings.

An American soldier died of non-combat injuries on Tuesday and another was killed by a roadside bomb, the U.S. military announced Wednesday. At least

2,867 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003, including 49 this month.

For ordinary Iraqis, who struggle against a rising tide of sectarianism and an atmosphere of lawlessness, life is increasingly bleak, according to the report, which was prepared by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq.

The capital, a religiously mixed city where one-third of Iraq's 26 million people live, saw the worst of the violence, though it's quickly spilling into outlying provinces.

"Baghdad is the epicenter, but the violent trend is spiking up throughout the country," said Said Arakat, spokesman for the U.N. mission in Iraq. "And the sectarian division is getting much, much wider than a couple of months ago."

That division was evident in Wednesday's parliament session, where Iraqi lawmakers traded thinly veiled sectarian jabs over recent security breaches that have left them vulnerable to attack.

Explosives in a decoy car in the convoy of Iraq's Sunni speaker of parliament partially detonated inside the heavily fortified government compound known as the Green Zone on Tuesday, injuring the American security contractor behind the wheel. The near-miss came as a startling revelation of insurgents' ability to infiltrate perhaps the best-guarded place in Iraq and led to accusations that rival sectarian factions were behind the apparent assassination attempt.

Sunni lawmaker Mithal al-Alusi, known as an opponent of sectarianism, told the parliament it was time to acknowledge that the infiltration of Sunni and Shiite armed groups came from within their own ranks and to stop blaming it on foreign fighters allied with al-Qaida.

Other recent violence against government officials includes a roadside-bomb attack on a Shiite Cabinet member that wounded one of his bodyguards; an assassination attempt against a Shiite deputy health minister that killed two of his guards; and the abduction of another Shiite deputy health minister from his home in Baghdad.

Legislators on Wednesday debated heatedly whether to hire a Western security firm instead of relying largely on a mixed-sect, joint security committee to provide protection. No decision was made.

"Now, we're essentially trying to find a foreign company to protect parliament members, and this sends the wrong message to Iraqi citizens because we are the ones who should install a political system that supervises and protects them," al-Alusi said.

Ali al-Adeeb, a leader in the Shiite prime minister's Dawa Party, said he doubted that parliament would approve the hiring of a foreign company to protect Iraqi legislators.

"Even these foreign companies depend on Iraqi staff, so the problem is not in getting foreign help, the problem lies in loyalty," al-Adeeb said.

Iraqi police officials said at least 52 bodies were discovered throughout Baghdad on Wednesday. Among them was the body of Raad Jaafar Hamadi, a reporter for the state-run al Sabah newspaper, who was killed in a drive-by shooting. The death raised to at least 92 the number of journalists killed in Iraq since the war began.

Journalists, judges, academics, women and religious minorities were mentioned in the U.N. rights report as among the most vulnerable in the worsening violence. Nearly 420,000 Iraqis moved to other parts of the country since the bombing in February of a Shiite shrine in Samarra provoked an upswing in sectarian attacks, according to the report. About 100,000 Iraqis are fleeing to Syria and Jordan each month.

The Iraqi government said its own figures on civilian casualties are slightly lower than those compiled by the United Nations, but it didn't dispute the unraveling security conditions, said Hassan al-Sneid, a legislator and close adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"We can say we've barely got security," al-Sneid said, adding that militias were not the only factor in the upsurge in violence. "We have the weak security forces, lack of services, corruption, tribal revenge, terrorism and the speeches of fanatical clerics. They're all partners in deteriorating security, and that's beside the interference of neighboring countries."


(McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Mohammed al Awsy contributed to this report.)


(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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