|Counting casualties an inexact science in Iraq, writes Al Jazeera correspondent Jane Arraf|
No one knows the exact number of those killed in violence in Iraq. We try to piece together the scale of this conflict by the number of funeral banners strung along the streets or families gathering at the morgue – along with charts and graphs.
Along with an estimated 150,000 Iraqis killed in violence since 2003, there are believed to be an equal number of Iraqis missing.
The numbers themselves are controversial – the UN’s monthly compilation and those by Iraq Body Count serve as a reminder that a new war began with the toppling of Saddam Hussein 12 years ago – one that has never really ended.
The only death tolls the Iraqi or US governments like to release are those of ISIL fighters and they are coy about even those. When a US diplomat recently said the US and its partners had killed 6,000 ISIL fighters in Iraq and Syria, the US military’s comment was that it didn’t want to dwell on figures.
The number of civilians killed recently is less than half the rate during Iraq’s sectarian war in 2006 and 2007 when there were dozens of attacks and more than 100 deaths a day.
But January’s numbers are still staggering.
On Friday, for instance as Iraqis enjoyed the spring-like weather by going to shops and markets, more than 20 people were killed in attacks in Baghdad.
Roadside bombs, sticky bombs, suicide bombs, rockets, mortars and just plain old gunfire – attacks here are still one of the leading causes of death.
In one of Iraq’s deadliest months in years, 1,375 people were killed and 2,240 were wounded in acts of “terrorism or violence” in January, the United Nations reported.
In monthly statistics released on Sunday, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said civilians represented more than half of the casualties, with 790 killed and 1,469 wounded.
The dead also included 585 members of the Iraqi army which is struggling to rebuild itself after fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group seized large parts of the country last year.
January’s total casualty figure of 3,615 was higher than in any month in 2014 – which the UNAMI says was the deadliest year since 2008.
UNAMI said Baghdad was the worst affected province in January with 1,014 civilian casualties (256 killed, 758 injured), while Anbar suffered a total of 779 civilian casualties (195 killed and 584 injured).
Diyala province was the next worst affected with a total of 114 killed and 49 injured. The deaths appear to include more than 70 unarmed civilians who were reportedly killed in the village of Barwanah last week as they fled from ISIL fighters.
Sunni politicians and tribal chiefs have accused Shia fighters of being responsible for the killings.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi hosted a security summit in the capital on Saturday with political and religious leaders, in a bid to unite the country’s factions against ISIL. At the talks, Abbadi made an apparent reference to the alleged massacre in Diyala province.
“I have said it before and will say it today – those who were conducting killings and kidnapping crimes in Baghdad and other cities are no less dangerous than terrorists,” he said.
Meanwhile, the UNAMI recorded 100 killed and 52 injured Salahuddin province in January, Ninewa recorded 85 killed and 12 injured and Kirkuk recorded 14 killed and six injured.
The UN says its numbers “have to be considered as the absolute minimum” because they do not include territories held by ISIL or those who lost their lives due to “secondary effects of violence … [including] exposure to the elements, lack of water, food, medicines and healthcare”.