BAGHDAD, (AFP) — More Iraqis were killed in attacks in January than any month since September, figures released Tuesday showed, after a surge in violence over a two week period shattered a relative calm in the country.
Data compiled by the ministries of health, defence and interior showed that a total of 259 people — 159 civilians, 55 policemen and 45 soldiers — were killed in violence last month.
That figure was the highest since September 2010, when 273 people died. January’s death toll broke a string of five consecutive months when the overall number of people killed fell.
The data was published two days after a US watchdog said shortfalls in the capabilities of Iraq’s security forces could undo security gains after American troops leave at the end of the year.
The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) noted that while Baghdad’s forces had made major improvements, they suffered from poor logistics capabilities, and that corruption within the police and army had hampered their development.
“This quarter, several US observers noted real or potential gaps in Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) capabilities that could affect its ability to lock in hard-won security gains,” SIGIR said in its quarterly report released Sunday.
Violence in January also left 263 people wounded — 178 civilians, 95 policemen and 90 soldiers, according to the figures. A total of 65 insurgents were killed and 295 arrested.
The death toll was pushed higher primarily during a two-week period when attacks across the country left around 200 people dead, beginning on January 18 when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of a crowd of police recruits in the central city of Tikrit, killing 50.
The next day, another suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden ambulance into a security headquarters in the town of Baquba, killing 13 people, followed by a spate of blasts on January 20 against Shiite pilgrims on the outskirts of the holy shrine city of Karbala that killed 45.
And on January 27, a massive car bomb ripped through a funeral ceremony in a Shiite district of north Baghdad, leaving 48 dead.
The surge in violence came around a month after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki named a new cabinet, ending a nine-month political impasse following parliamentary elections in March.
British NGO Iraq Body Count said in its 2010 annual report published a month ago that violence in Iraq, despite falling compared to previous years, may have reached an “impassable minimum”.
“Taken as a whole and seen in the context of immediately preceding years, the 2010 data suggest a persistent low-level conflict in Iraq that will continue to kill civilians at a similar rate for years to come,” it said.
A total of six US soldiers died in January, also the highest figure since September, according to independent website www.icasualties.org, though one of the deaths was in a non-combat incident.
Among the American troops killed were two who died when an Iraqi soldier gunned them down at a training centre on January 15. Another US soldier died on the same day, the deadliest for American forces in Iraq since July.
Their deaths were a stark reminder that, despite Washington having declared combat operations over in August, its 50,000-odd troops still stationed in Iraq remain at risk.
The remaining US soldiers in Iraq must withdraw from the country by the end of the year, per the terms of a bilateral pact.