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Iraqi government reports big jump in civilian deaths

BAGHDAD -- The number of Iraqi civilians killed in violence may have jumped to another record high in October, data from the Iraqi government indicated yesterday.

Statistics issued by the Interior Ministry on the number of Iraqis killed in political violence put civilian deaths last month at 1,289, nearly 42 a day, up 18 percent from the 1,089 in September, itself a record for this particular tally .

Bloodshed intensified in the holy month of Ramadan, which ended last week, as rival Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim communities vied for power in a continuing cycle of sectarian reprisals.

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 more than 650,000 may have died since the US invasion of 2003.

US officials question the UN estimate.

President Bush and Iraq's prime minister dismissed the statisticians' survey in the medical journal The Lancet last month.

Evidence of civilian casualties is scarce and collecting data fraught with danger. The Iraqi government has also tightened rules to prevent officials outside the prime minister's office releasing figures.

The Interior Ministry data are a nationwide compilation of reports from its officials as well as the Defense and Health ministries, the official who provides the statistics said.

It does not include all violent deaths but those judged the result of political, sectarian, or ethnic killings, as opposed to criminal murder, the Interior Ministry official added. He would give no further detail on how the distinctions are drawn.

The figures also showed 139 Iraqi soldiers and police were killed in October -- substantially fewer than the more than 300 that the US military commander in Iraq said were killed during Ramadan, which ended a week ago.

Nonetheless, the Interior Ministry figures have matched trends reported by other officials, both Iraqi and US, this year.

The Interior Ministry said 582 civilians were killed in political violence in January, rising to 782 in March. It said 889 died in June, 1,065 in July, and 769 in August.

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