Iraq bloodshed in April kills 1,073
Yahoo News/AFP
by Salam Faraj
April 30, 2008

BAGHDAD (AFP) - At least 1,073 Iraqis were killed across the country in April, most of them slaughtered in fierce fighting between security forces and Shiite militants, security officials told AFP Wednesday.

According to data collected by Iraq's interior, health and defence ministries and made available to AFP, 966 civilians were killed in April, followed by 69 policemen and 38 soldiers.

The death toll in April is marginally lower than in March which saw 1,082 Iraqis killed.

"The death toll in April is mainly driven by fighting between (Shiite) militants and security forces," a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Combined figures obtained by AFP from the three ministries showed that 1,745 civilians were wounded in the violence that ravaged the country, followed by 159 policemen and 104 soldiers.

The April toll maintains the trend of high violence that reversed, mainly since March, a gradually declining trend of violence seen from June last year and follows 721 killed in February, 541 in January, 568 in December, 606 in November, 887 in October, 917 in September and 1,856 in August.

April is also the deadliest month for the US military since September last year.

It lost 49 soldiers in April, according to independent website based on the deaths announced by the military so far this month.

These deaths brought the number of US troops killed in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion to 4,061.

Of the 49 soldiers killed in April, 23 died in Baghdad where the military is engaged in fierce street battles with Shiite militiamen, mostly from the Mahdi Army of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The lowest casualties so far in 2008 have been in February with 29 soldiers killed.

Although insurgent attacks rocked Iraq in April, fierce fighting between Shiite militiamen and US and Iraqi forces has been the main cause of the bloodshed.

The fighting that broke out late last month in Basra on March 25, spread quickly to other Shiite areas of Iraq, but particularly in Baghdad's Sadr City which is a bastion of Mahdi Army militia.

Earlier Wednesday, Tehseen Sheikhly, a spokesman for Baghdad security plan, said that at least 925 people were killed in Sadr City firefights since it started late March.

He, however, did not offer a breakdown of how many were killed in March and in April. He also did not clarify how many civilians and militants were slaughtered in the clashes.

Clashes had erupted in Basra after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a crackdown on militiamen in the southern port city.

On Wednesday, fresh clashes in Sadr City killed 13 militants, the US military said, as Maliki accused the militiamen of using civilians as "human shields" while fighting the security forces.

"Criminals and lawless gangs are using human shields in Sadr City ... They are following the steps of the Baathist regime," Maliki told a press conference.

"They are trying to gain sympathy but they are using the lies and the values of the former regime" of executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

The US military says that gunmen have been firing at troops from rooftops, alleyways and houses resulting in firefights in which civilians are often killed.

Maliki vowed to disband the Mahdi Army as well as Sunni insurgent groups, particularly Al-Qaeda.

"We will not allow scavengers in Iraq. The suffering will not be long in Sadr City. We will save our brothers," he said.

The premier accused the militias of forcing Sadr City residents to stay at home out of fear. "I do not know how those people use the (Shiite religious) names we respect like Mahdi and Sadr," he said.

Maliki was alluding to Moqtada's father Grand Ayatollah Mohamed Sadeq al-Sadr, a revered Shiite spiritual leader before his assassination, as well as Imam al-Mahdi, a central figure in the faith.

January's Iraqi death toll had reached a 23-month low, with US commanders saying that all types of attacks were down to levels not seen before the February 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in the town of Samarra that unleashed a wave of sectarian violence.

The bloodshed that erupted after the shrine attack peaked in January last year, with 1,992 deaths reported by the three ministries.

The reduction in the violence during the six months to January was attributed to a "surge" of an extra 30,000 US troops in Iraq, the formation by Sunni leaders of anti-Qaeda fronts, and Sadr's suspension of the activities of his Mahdi Army militia the previous August.

Original Text