The United Nations released a report this week detailing the "staggering civilian death toll in Iraq" over the past two years. It found that nearly 19,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the Islamic State's insurgency flared at the beginning of 2014, while some 3.2 million Iraqis have been displaced.
The report also estimated that some 3,500 Iraqis continue to be held captive as the jihadists’ “slaves,” including many women and girls from the persecuted Yazidi sect who have been abducted and forced into sexual slavery.
Compiled jointly by the United Nations' mission in Iraq and its Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the report details myriad abuses and atrocities that have ravaged the country in recent years. From Jan. 1, 2014 to the end of last October, the world body recorded at least 55,047 civilian casualties in Iraq: 18,802 killed and 36,245 wounded.
The statistics, say U.N. officials, still don't convey the whole story. Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraq has endured waves of deadly turmoil. The recent havoc unleashed by the Islamic State, as well as the heavy-handed actions of a constellation of pro-government militias and factions, have traumatized countless Iraqis and destabilized the state.
“Even the obscene casualty figures fail to accurately reflect exactly how terribly civilians are suffering in Iraq. The figures capture those who were killed or maimed by overt violence, but countless others have died from the lack of access to basic food, water or medical care,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement accompanying the report.
According to U.N. figures, nearly 4 million Iraqis are internally displaced by conflict -- the vast majority of whom were forced to flee their homes in the past two years.
The report, compiled using government and NGO figures, as well as numerous testimonies and eyewitness accounts from Iraqis, paints a bleak picture of a nation that has steadily unraveled amid a bitter sectarian conflict.
It echoes an earlier study by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum that first raised the prospect of a "genocide" taking place in northern Iraq, where the jihadists have systematically targeted religious minorities.
"The violence suffered by civilians in Iraq remains staggering," the U.N. report states in the opening summary. "The so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) continues to commit systematic and widespread violence and abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law. These acts may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide."