Iraqi Official: 150,000 Civilians Dead

The Associated Press
Friday, November 10, 2006; 4:39 AM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A stunning new death count emerged Thursday, as Iraq's health minister estimated 150,000 civilians have been killed in the war _ about three times previously accepted estimates.

On Friday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of two soldiers and one Marine, bringing the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq this month to 23.

The two soldiers assigned to the 89th Military Police Brigade died when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb on Thursday in western Baghdad, the military said. It said another soldier was wounded in the incident, but gave no details.

The Marine, assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, died Thursday from wounds suffered in fighting in Anbar province, a hotbed of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency against U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies.

The names of those killed were being withheld until their families could be notified.

A least 2,843 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Meanwhile, moderate Sunni Muslims threatened to walk away from politics and pick up guns, while the Shiite-dominated government renewed pressure on the United States to unleash the Iraqi army and claimed it could crush violence in six months.

After Democrats swept to majorities in both houses of the U.S. Congress and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld resigned, Iraqis appeared unsettled and seemed to sense the potential for an even bloodier conflict because future American policy is uncertain. As a result, positions hardened on both sides of the country's deepening sectarian divide.

Previous estimates of Iraq deaths held that 45,000-50,000 have been killed in the nearly 44-month-old conflict, according to partial figures from Iraqi institutions and media reports. No official count has ever been available.

Health Minister Ali al-Shemari gave his new estimate of 150,000 to reporters during a visit to Vienna, Austria. He later told The Associated Press that he based the figure on an estimate of 100 bodies per day brought to morgues and hospitals _ though such a calculation would come out closer to 130,000 in total.

"It is an estimate," al-Shemari said. He blamed Sunni insurgents, Wahhabis _ Sunni religious extremists _ and criminal gangs for the deaths.

Hassan Salem, of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, said the 150,000 figure included civilians, police and the bodies of people who were abducted, later found dead and collected at morgues run by the Health Ministry. SCIRI is Iraq's largest Shiite political organization and holds the largest number of seats in parliament.

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