Iraq Injuries Remain High, Number of Deaths Drops Slightly

Deaths among Iraq civilians, police and soldiers dropped slightly last month but the number of wounded rose, indicating little easing of violence since the killing of terrorist Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, government figures showed Monday.

The tallies from the defense, interior and health ministries did not specify how many of the deaths and injuries occurred before the June 7 airstrike that killed the Al Qaeda in Iraq leader.

Of the 1,006 Iraqis reported killed in political or sectarian violence last month, 885 were civilians, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press. The overall figure was down from the 1,053 deaths recorded by the three ministries in May.

Despite the dip in deaths, the number of Iraqis wounded rose from 1,426 in May to 1,769 in June.

In all, about 5,062 Iraqis were killed and 6,898 were wounded in the first six months of this year, the figures said.

Those totals do not include the 66 people killed and about 100 wounded in Saturday's car bombing in Baghdad's Shiite-dominated district of Sadr City. That was the deadliest attack in Iraq since the unity government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took office in May, pledging to curb the violence so Iraqi forces can take over their own security within 18 months so American troops can begin withdrawing.

In announcing Zarqawi's death, U.S. officials cautioned against expecting any quick reduction in violence, particularly the suicide attacks and car bombings against Shiite civilians that have been the hallmark of his group.

Al Qaeda quickly announced a new leader — Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who vowed to continue the fight. Since al-Zarqawi's death, al-Qaida in Iraq has claimed responsibility for several attacks, including the brutal slayings of two U.S. soldiers captured south of Baghdad last month.

Nevertheless, American and Iraqi officials believe that over time, the death of the charismatic al-Zarqawi will help dampen the violence and encourage other insurgent groups to talk with the government about ending the insurgency.

"Attacks have increased since Zarqawi's death, but the group is being weakened and is disintegrating because they have lost their most important symbol," Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Ali Rashid said, citing no figures.

Still, his comments offer little comfort to Iraqis, who face daily bombings and shootings.

Taxi driver Firas Hussein learned how precarious life can be. On June 20, the 38-year-old Shiite taxi driver stopped his vehicle near a Baghdad market to let the engine cool from the baking, 110-degree heat.

Moments later, a minivan exploded, killing four people and hurling shards of hot metal into his leg. Fifteen other people were injured.

"Three pieces of shrapnel penetrated my left leg," Hussein recalled. "I looked around and saw dead and wounded people on the ground."

There are no generally accepted figures on the number of Iraqis killed or wounded since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Government institutions did not start functioning again until more than a year after the invasion, and the Iraqi Health Ministry only began tabulating civilian deaths in April 2004, when heavy fighting broke out between U.S. forces and gunmen in Fallujah and Najaf.

Many deaths are believed to go unreported, and families sometimes collect bodies from the hospital before they can be recorded at the morgue, making a reliable count difficult.

Iraq Body Count, a private group that bases its figures in part on reports by 40 media outlets, puts the number of civilian deaths since the conflict began at between 38,786 and 43,215.

Deputy Health Minister Adel Mohsen said Baghdad's main morgue had recorded some 25,000 victims of violence since 2004 — 8,000 so far this year, 10,500 in 2005 and 6,500 the year before.

The morgue figures only cover Baghdad and its outskirts, excluding the volatile western Anbar region, the relatively quiet Kurdish north or southern Shiite areas that witness fewer attacks than Sunni regions where the insurgency is active.

In December, President Bush estimated that at least 30,000 Iraqis had been killed so far during the conflict. Some 2,750 coalition troops, including more than 2,500 Americans, have died in Iraq since the war began.

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But it is clear that Iraqi civilians are suffering the most.

"What we are seeing is a significant increase in civilian casualties, Iraqi civilian casualties," Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, said last week.

"They account for about 70 percent of all casualties on a daily basis within Iraq. They are, unfortunately, the ones who are taking the brunt of this insurgent activity."