UN Records Spike in Iraqi Deaths Amid Islamic State Onslaught

More than 24,000 civilians were killed or injured in violence in Iraq during the first eight months of this year, according to the United Nations, a toll not seen since the country’s 2006-7 civil war.

At least 8,493 civilians were killed and 15,782 wounded, the UN said in a report released today by its Assistance Mission for Iraq and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. At least 4,692 civilians died and 6,467 were injured between June 1 and Aug. 31, a period that overlapped with a major offensive by militants of the Islamic State, a group the report refers to as ISIL, an earlier name.

The actual overall number of people killed in violence could be much higher, the UN said. Those who died from the secondary effects of conflict, such as lack of access to food, water or medicine after fleeing their homes, is unknown, according to the report. As of August, an estimated 1.8 million Iraqis had been displaced by violence.

The report, which is based on information obtained from victims and witnesses to violence, describes a descent into the kind of prolonged sectarian and ethnic conflict that flared following the removal of Saddam Hussein by U.S. forces in 2003, when thousands of civilians lost their lives each month.

Islamic State is an extremist Sunni insurgent force that joined the fight to oust President Bashar al-Assad across the border in Syria. Enriched after seizing oil refineries and bolstered by new recruits, it has captured swaths of northern Iraq since storming Mosul, the region’s biggest city, in June.

Minorities Targeted

Human Rights Watch reported last month evidence the group had carried out mass killings of captured Iraqi Shiite troops. It has also targeted Kurdish, Christian and other minorities in both Syria and Iraq, triggering international outrage and airstrikes by the U.S. and its Arab and European allies.

Among “apparent systematic and widespread” abuses committed by militants of the Islamic State and associated armed groups in Iraq were executions, abductions, rape, and forced recruitment of children, the UN said, also citing testimony from governmental reports.

The Iraqi military and allied forces are reported to have carried out operations or attacks, including airstrikes and shelling, that may have violated the principles of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law, according to the report. Armed groups linked to or supporting the government were also responsible for targeted killings, including of captured Islamic State fighters, and abductions of civilians, it said.

Baghdad hasn’t been spared violence with regular bombings killings scores of people. Assassinations recorded in the capital were largely sectarian, the report said.

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