Iraq war casualties rise sharply


The number of civilians, police and soldiers killed in violence in Iraq climbed sharply in January as militants launched a new wave of attacks, according to government statistics released today.

The health ministry said 159 civilians were killed in bombings and other attacks last month compared with 89 in December, 105 in November and 120 in October. It was the highest civilian toll since September.

Some 55 police officers and 45 soldiers were killed, compared to 41 and 21 respectively in December, according to interior and defence ministry figures.

Many of the deaths occurred in a two-week period around a Muslim religious rite as suspected insurgents challenged the new Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, attacking police and targeting pilgrims streaming into the holy Shia city of Kerbala.

On January 18th, a suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives and ball bearings killed around 50 police recruits while they queued for jobs in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. Two days later car bombs killed at least 45 Shias near Kerbala.

On January 27th, a car bomb explosion at a funeral wake in a Shia neighbourhood in Baghdad killed more than 45 people and wounded scores of others.

Iraq remains in the grip of a stubborn insurgency but the level of violence has fallen significantly since sectarian slaughter peaked in 2006-07 following the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam.

War casualties decreased at the end of last year despite predictions that the formal end of US combat operations in August might result in an increase in attacks. US troops are scheduled to withdraw completely by the end of this year.