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Baghdad saw hundreds of deaths in April

Iraq President Jalal Talabani urged  feuding factions Wednesday to unite against surging crime and terrorism, as attacks raged across the country.
Scenes like this one, where Iraqis gather at a Baghdad hospital morgue to identify bodies of people found slain execution-style, are common due to religious violence between Sunni and Shiite sects.Samir Mizban / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Jalal Talabani said Wednesday that nearly 1,100 people died in Baghdad last month and urged Iraq’s feuding factions to unite against surging crime and terrorism.

Talabani said 1,091 people were killed in Baghdad alone last month, and his office said the figure came from the Baghdad Central Morgue.

However, Dr. Riyadh Abdul Amer of the death registration office of the Ministry of Health, said his office misinterpreted the president’s request and gave the figure for all deaths in the Baghdad area for the month of April including natural causes.

According to the health ministry, 762 people were killed as a result of terrorist activity in April: 686 civilians, 54 police and 22 members of the Iraqi army.

Talabani earlier said that Iraqis “feel shock, dismay and anger over the daily reports of the discovery of unidentified corpses and those of others killed” around the capital.

“If we add this to the number of corpses that are not discovered, or to similar crimes in other provinces, then the total number ... reflects that we are confronting a situation no less dangerous than the results of terrorist acts” such as car bombings and other attacks.

Scores of unidentified bodies turn up around the capital on a daily basis, many bound, tortured and shot execution-style in what officials say is an unwavering tide of reprisal sectarian killings.

At least 3,525 Iraqis have been killed in war-related violence this year. These numbers include civilians, government officials, and police and security officials, and are considered only a minimum based on Associated Press reporting.

Religious violence
Sunni Arabs, who form the minority in the country but were once the power brokers under Saddam Hussein, say they are being targeted by so-called Shiite death squads operating either from within the Shiite-led Interior Ministry, or with the ministry’s tacit approval.

Shiites say thousands of their community have had to flee their homes to escape threats by Sunni extremists.

Leadership of the Interior Ministry — a key to securing the country against the steadily escalating wave of violence — has been a main stumbling block in the formation of the new national unity government.

Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki has said the interior and defense portfolios will be filled by independents unaffiliated with individual parties or militias.

But many lawmakers say that the next interior minister will likely be a Shiite, and several have floated the name of the current minister, Bayan Jabr, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Saying that behind every unidentified corpse is “an orphan, a starving father or a grieving wife,” Talabani, himself a Kurd, warned that these daily abductions and murders are stoking a “climate of suspicion among the sons of the nation.”

He said terrorists are capitalizing on the weakness of government institutions and stressed that the formation of the new government will help create a climate in which such attacks can be halted. But Talabani also called on all factions “to issue a fatwa (religious edict) condemning these crimes, irrespective of who perpetrated them.”

Bombing, shootings
Meanwhile, attacks continued around Iraq on Wednesday.

Near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Iraqi civilians to work, then planted a bomb aboard the vehicle that exploded when rescue workers arrived. In all, 11 Iraqis were killed and six wounded.

Thirteen Iraqis were killed in other attacks, including four off-duty policemen in Ramadi, officials said.

Casualties from a suicide truck bombing in the northern city of Tal Afar on Tuesday night rose to 22 dead and 134 wounded. The U.S. military flew some of the wounded to other cities when the local hospital was overwhelmed.

Also Wednesday, American and Iraqi forces were searching for five people who escaped from a U.S. detention center in northern Iraq, the U.S. command.