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Baghdad morgue took in 1,600 bodies in October

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Around 1,600 bodies were taken to Baghdad’s morgue in October as insurgent attacks and sectarian violence surged during the holy month of Ramadan, an official at the morgue said on Sunday.

A worker inspects a body outside a hospital morgue in Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad, November 12, 2006. About 40 unclaimed bodies found in several days from different parts of Baquba will be buried in a mass grave, a hospital morgue worker said. REUTERS/Helmiy al-Azawi

The tally is the highest since July, when the toll hit 1,815, and was up 10 percent from 1,450 in September.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity because morgue officials have been told by the government not to speak to the media, said 85 percent of October’s bodies had died violently. Most of those were men with gunshot wounds.

The February bombing of the Shi’ite Golden Mosque at Samarra triggered an explosion of sectarian violence, especially in the capital, and U.S. commanders reported another spike during the holy month of Ramadan, which coincided with much of October.

National statistics issued last week by the Interior Ministry for Iraqis killed in specifically political violence, as opposed to incidents put down as criminal, put civilian deaths last month at 1,289, up 18 percent from the 1,089 seen in September, itself a record for this particular series of data.

Such figures have become increasingly controversial, notably since the United Nations put the monthly civilian toll at over 3,000 this summer and a group of medical statisticians estimated that over 650,000 may have died since the U.S. invasion of 2003.

Iraq’s health minister was quoted last week as saying the total number of dead was closer to 150,000, although it was not clear how he arrived at that figure.

U.S. officials, who dismiss the statisticians’ estimate, question the reliability of Health Ministry data, noting the department is controlled by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, some of whose followers are accused of sectarian killings.

To reach its total, the United Nations has added figures from the Health Ministry, gathered from hospitals around the country, to the number of initially unidentified bodies brought to the Baghdad morgue, many of them tortured and executed.

However the United Nations has said it was told last month the Health Ministry would no longer provide it with figures and that these would, instead, be issued by the prime minister’s office. Asked for information on Sunday, the prime minister’s office directed calls to the health ministry, where officials were unavailable for comment.

A U.N. official said they had not finished compiling statistics for October yet.