GENEVA: The number of civilians killed in violence in Iraq over the past two years is “staggering,” the United Nations said Tuesday, with at least 18,802 people killed and another 36,245 injured.
The figures count only documented casualties from January 1, 2014 through October 31, 2015, and the actual numbers of people killed and maimed are likely far higher, according to a new report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN human rights agency.
“These are the minimum figures … in terms of the impact of the violence on civilians,” UNAMI chief Francesco Motta told reporters in Geneva by phone from Iraq, adding that the report authors used “very high standards for verification.”
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein meanwhile said that the toll only counted people killed in violence and did not take into account those who perished from the broader impact of conflict.
“Even the obscene casualty figures fail to accurately reflect exactly how terribly civilians are suffering in Iraq,” Zeid said in a statement.
“The figures capture those who were killed or maimed by overt violence, but countless others have died from the lack of access to basic food, water or medical care.”
Some 3.2 million people have been internally displaced in Iraq since the beginning of 2014, including more than one million school-aged children, according to the UN.
“Many displaced persons are living in under-resourced locations in poor conditions, and are subject to violence and abuse,” the report said.
“The violence suffered by civilians in Iraq remains staggering.”
‘Crimes against humanity’
The dramatic upsurge in violence and in the numbers of people fleeing their homes came with the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group, which in 2014 declared a “caliphate” in a large swath of territory stretching across the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Tuesday’s report accused IS of “systematic and widespread violence and abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law.”
The UN also documented violations and abuses carried out by Iraqi security forces and associated militia and other groups, including killings and abductions.
But the report gave particular attention to the atrocities committed by IS jihadists, detailing “numerous examples of killings … in gruesome public spectacles, including by shooting, beheading, bulldozing, burning alive and throwing people off the top of buildings.”
It also condemned reports of IS murdering child soldiers who tried to flee.
In one incident, on August 14, IS members allegedly killed 18 minors for having run away from fighting on the frontline, following a ruling from an IS self-appointed court, the report said.
It also said IS in May had used child soldiers to execute 15 of its fighters who had lost or retreated from battles.
Jihadists meanwhile continue “to subject women and children to sexual violence, particularly in the form of sexual slavery,” it said, adding that it believed around 3,500 people were currently being held in IS slavery.
“These acts may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide,” according to the report, which was based largely on witness and victim testimony.
The experts said numerous mass graves had been discovered in Iraq, including several in areas that had been liberated from IS control, each containing the remains of dozens of people.
Some of the mass graves found meanwhile date back to the rule of Saddam Hussein.
The largest, found in Basra, contained the remains of 377 people, including women and children, killed during the 1991 Shiite uprising against the long-time Iraqi dictator.