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Iraqi Death Toll in May, June: Nearly 6,000


Iraq is in the grip of escalating violence, especially in the capital, Baghdad. Five people were killed today as roadside bombs exploded near Technology University in east Baghdad. This follows an explosion yesterday in the southern Shiite City Kufa. More than 50 people were killed. They were mostly Shiite day workers, who the bomber had lured with the promise of jobs. A new U.N. report says the violence has killed 6,000 Iraqi civilians in the past two months alone. NPR Pentagon correspondent John Hendren is in Baghdad. John, these casualty numbers are even higher than what we're used to seeing in Iraq. Bring us up to date on what's been happening.

JOHN HENDREN reporting:

That's right. The violence here is always a bit staggering by global standards - by any standards, really. And now, it's on the latest of many upswings. And to give you and idea of just how brutal it gets here - yesterday, a grocer in Tikrit was killed after he tried to recover the head of a teenage girl that insurgents had turned into a makeshift bomb. Civilians have been the main targets. This morning, for instance, the first bomb - near Technology University - lured rescue workers and police to the scene, and then a second bomb targeted them. Five were killed and 20 wounded in that incident, including six policemen. And they were probably killed in the second blast.

Those attacks have really allowed a climate of instability to persist here. That attack happened a day after a bombing in Kufa that targeted these day workers. Those were Shiites. There was a bombing at a market that targeted Sunnis the day before in Mahmoudiya. These bombings have served two purposes. They foment secterian violence, and they also strike at Iraq's struggling economy. Unemployment here remains near historic highs, and there are shortages of electricity and gas that have stymied economic progress.

YDSTIE: The United Nations has come out with this new report, detailing the jump in the civilian death toll in Iraq. What exactly did the report say?

HENDREN: Well, beyond saying that 6,000 civilians were killed in those two months, what was surprising - to me, anyway - was that 4,500 of those were killed here in the capital. And our bureau confirmed that today with the Baghdad morgue. We call the morgue daily for a tally of the dead. Those numbers have been consistently high: 92 yesterday, and 50 today so far. And they haven't closed the books. If you consider 6,000 in two months against the U.S. estimate that 30,000 people have been killed - civilians have been killed since the war began, that's a really high number. It's looking like 20 percent. The Iraqi Health Department puts the number of civilian casualties since the war began at more like 50,000. This U.N. report suggested both of those numbers are probably too low. One reason for that is probably that Iraqis bury their dead quickly, and they don't report the deaths always to authorities.

YDSTIE: John, what does this mean for the future of the Iraqi government?

HENDREN: It means the fledgling government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is really struggling to gain control of the country. Maliki came into office offering two things: one was a unity government with the hope quelling sectarian tensions, and the second was a security plan for the capitol. The government has been plagued by boycotts, mostly over security. And the security plan so far is not regarded as a success.

The American Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has said Maliki has maybe six months to solidify security in the country, and so far it's not going very well.

YDSTIE: NPR's John Hendren in Baghdad. Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ydstie
John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.
John Hendren
John Hendren began covering the Pentagon for NPR in November 2005. His reports can be heard throughout NPR News programming and newscasts.