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Iraq won't give U.N. civilian death toll

The Baltimore Sun

Baghdad -- The Iraqi government has refused to provide the United Nations with civilian casualty figures for the world body's latest report on the hardships endured by Iraqis, the United Nations said yesterday, but numbers from Iraqi ministries indicate that more than 5,500 people died in the Baghdad area in the first three months of this year.

Those numbers, provided to the Los Angeles Times by employees in government ministries, could not be independently verified.

At a news conference to unveil the United Nations' 10th report on the human rights situation in Iraq since August 2005, Said Arikat, the spokesman for the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, said the government had given no official reason for not issuing casualty figures.

Ivana Vuco, a U.N. human rights officer, said government officials had made it clear during discussions that they thought reporting high casualty numbers would make it harder for the government to quell unrest.

"We were told they were concerned that people would misconstrue the figures to portray the situation very negatively, and that would further undermine their efforts to establish some kind of stability and security in the country," Vuco said. "These are, in a way ... legitimate reasons.

"However, we are trying to stress our point of view, which is that transparency is the key to establishing security."

Even though the U.N. report did not contain casualty figures, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government rejected it for its criticisms of the country's judicial system, saying it lacks accuracy and balance.

Among other things, the U.N. said some prisoners in Iraqi detention facilities were tortured, forced into confessing to crimes and denied adequate access to lawyers.

U.S. Embassy officials also faulted the U.N. findings, saying its criticism of the Iraqi legal system contained inaccuracies.

U.S. officials defended al-Maliki's decision to withhold casualty figures and said that in the past, several ministries had issued conflicting numbers.

"There were sometimes concerns with political motivations" in the release of statistics, one U.S. Embassy official said, referring to the sectarian and ethnic polarization besetting al-Maliki's government.

The prime minister's aim is to have "one voice" from the government delivering numbers that have been consolidated and verified, to prevent such things as double-counting, the official said.

Iraqis have grown increasingly impatient with a U.S.-Iraqi security program that began in mid-February but has failed to quell violence, despite the addition of thousands of troops in Baghdad and neighboring provinces.

At least nine police officers were killed yesterday when a suicide bomber blew himself up in their midst in Balad Ruz, a town in Diyala province, a stronghold of Sunni Muslim insurgents.

At least three more people were killed and eight were injured when a roadside bomb went off near a gas station in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Shaab.

Two more civilians were killed when rockets slammed into a market near Zafaraniya, southeast of Baghdad, where a rocket attack killed 10 people Tuesday.

Another rocket attack killed two people southwest of Baghdad.

Tina Susman writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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