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UN: At least 6,878 civilians killed in Iraq violence in 2016

UN: At least 6,878 civilians killed in Iraq violence in 2016

BAGHDAD — Violence claimed the lives of at least 6,878 civilian Iraqis last year, the United Nations said on Monday, as the Iraqi government struggles to maintain security nationwide and to dislodge Islamic State group militants from areas under their control.

The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, known as UNAMI, said its numbers "have to be considered as the absolute minimum" as it has not been able to verify casualties among civilians in conflict areas, and of those who lost their lives due to "secondary effects of violence ... due to exposure to the elements, lack of water, food, medicines and health care."

UNAMI said in a statement that 12,388 other civilians were wounded in 2016. It added that last year figures didn't include casualties among civilians in Iraq's western Anbar province for the months of May, July, August and December.

According to UNAMI figures, at least 7,515 civilians were killed in 2015.

The monthly U.N. casualty report for December 2016 showed that a total of 386 civilians were killed and another 1,066 were wounded. The worst affected area was the northern province of Ninevah, where government forces are fighting to retake the IS-held city of Mosul, with 208 civilians killed and 511 injured. The capital, Baghdad, came next with 109 civilians killed and 523 injured.

IS, known locally by the Arabic acronym Daesh, has claimed responsibility for a string of bombings in Baghdad that have killed more than 50 people in the last week alone.

The deadliest IS attack was in July when a massive suicide bombing in a bustling market area in central Baghdad killed almost 300 people, the bloodiest single attack in the capital in 13 years of war.

"This is, no doubt, an attempt by Daesh to divert attention from their losses in Mosul and, unfortunately, it is the innocent civilians who are paying the price," Jan Kubis, the special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Iraq, said in the statement.

The group was also behind Monday's suicide bombing in a commercial area in eastern Baghdad, which killed 41 people and wounding 64 others. Several other attacks, including one carried out by five suicide bombers against two police stations in the city of Samarra north of Baghdad, killed at least 27 people and wounded 89.

Backed by the U.S.-led international coalition, Iraqi government troops and paramilitary forces launched the campaign in mid-October to dislodge IS from Mosul — Iraq's second-largest city and the last major IS urban bastion in the country.

Unlike other reports, last month's report didn't include casualties among security forces. The U.N. came under criticism from the Iraqi military last month after reporting that nearly 2,000 members of the Iraqi forces had been killed in November. The Iraqi government has not publicized the casualty figures for government troops and paramilitary forces fighting in Mosul and elsewhere in northern Iraq.

Sinan Salaheddin, The Associated Press