BAGHDAD (Reuters) - More than 700 people died in violence in Iraq in February, not including nearly 300 reported deaths in western Anbar province, where security forces have been battling Sunni Muslim rebels since January, the United Nations said on Saturday.
The world body said local authorities had recorded 298 civilian deaths in Anbar, but that it could not confirm the figures independently due to the chaos in the desert region.
Outside Anbar, the bloodshed was worst in Baghdad, where 239 civilians were killed, followed by Salahuddin province to the north with 121 dead. A total of 1,381 people were wounded.
The United Nations said it had confirmed 703 deaths in Iraq in February, compared to 733 in January, excluding Anbar.
The figures suggest that violence has not abated since 2013 when 7,818 civilians were killed. That was Iraq’s deadliest year since 2008, when the civilian death toll stood at 6,787.
The bloodshed remains below the levels seen in 2006 and 2007 when sectarian Shi‘ite-Sunni killings reached their peak.
Insecurity worsened dramatically in April when troops and police forcibly cleared a Sunni protest camp north of Baghdad, killing dozens of protesters, most of them unarmed.
The bloodshed sparked widespread clashes pitting Sunni fighters against the Shi‘ite-led government and marked the start of a relentless bombing campaign by al Qaeda-linked militants against mostly Shi‘ite targets.
The growing power of Sunni militants, who have profited from the civil war in neighboring Syria, prompted Prime Minister Nuri Maliki to order an offensive in western Anbar in December.
The United Nations told Iraqis the only way they could stop the violence was by bridging their differences. Iraq’s political elite remains deeply divided along sectarian lines.
“The political, social and religious leaders of Iraq have an urgent responsibility to come together in the face of the terrorist threat that the country is facing,” U.N. special representative to Iraq Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement.
Reporting By Ned Parker; Editing by Alistair Lyon