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Baghdad Morgue Reports Record Figures for May

Times Staff Writer

New Iraqi government documents show that, excluding the nearly daily bombings, more Baghdad residents died in shootings, stabbings and other violence in May than in any other month since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

The numbers, and accounts from residents, depict neighborhoods descending further into violence and fear.

Last month, 1,398 bodies were brought to the central morgue, according to Ministry of Health statistics, 307 more than in April. The count doesn’t include soldiers or civilian victims of explosions, on whom autopsies are not usually conducted.

Since 2003, at least 30,240 bodies have been brought to the morgue, the vast majority of them victims of gunmen who are not caught. Bodies often lie in the streets for hours.

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In response, many Iraqis are closing their shops, drawing their blinds and staying home, turning once-vibrant neighborhoods into ghost towns.

Residents in some areas fear death squads and Shiite-dominated security forces. In other parts of town, they worry about religious extremists who have threatened to kill men who wear shorts and women who drive or leave their hair uncovered.

“I feel like I’m living in a prison,” said Sahar Mohammed, 24, a Sunni Arab resident of west Baghdad who recently put her car in the garage and exchanged trousers for more conservative skirts. “I’m afraid of the people in my neighborhood. You don’t know how people around you think nowadays.”

A few days ago, violence literally came to the doorstep of Dina Ahmed, who lives in the Amiriya district. Outside her house, gunmen killed two people and stole their car. Her family tried to wash away the blood, but the sidewalk is still stained, she said.

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Ahmed, 24, comes from a secular Kurdish family but covers herself with the hijab to protect herself when she goes to and from work.

In the same neighborhood, Lamya Salman, a 59-year-old Sunni, gave up driving after one of her sons brought home a leaflet he had found in the street.

“All of these things are prohibited or you will face death,” the note said, listing women driving and going out with uncovered hair. The pamphlet also listed the wearing of T-shirts, shorts, jeans, gold chains and goatees.

“We were horrified,” said Salman, whose neighborhood was once a safe, upper-middle class area. Despite battles and chaos, Salman and her family are staying for a simple reason.

“We have nowhere to go,” she said.

Since the swearing-in of the new Iraqi government, politicians have demanded higher salaries and beefed-up security details for themselves but have failed to agree on candidates for key security posts. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has pledged to nominate the defense and interior ministers today.

Meanwhile, authorities reported that at least 61 people were killed or found dead Saturday as violence swept the country, touching men and women, Christians and Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiites.

Gunmen killed a Russian Embassy official and abducted four others in a daylight attack in the upscale Mansour neighborhood in Baghdad, Iraqi and Russian authorities said. In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry set up a crisis center to coordinate efforts to win the release of the kidnapped diplomats.

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Russia opposed the U.S.-led invasion and has not contributed any troops to the coalition effort in Iraq.

In Basra, a suicide bomber killed 32 people and wounded 77, officials said. The explosives tore through a crowded market where people were shopping for bicycles and cellphones around dusk. A Christian man was gunned down in a separate incident; a day earlier, a Muslim cleric was killed in the city.

On Wednesday, Maliki had declared a state of emergency in the Shiite-dominated southern city, which has become increasingly volatile.

In Baqubah, a mixed city north of the capital, residents found seven heads in two banana crates. One more head, that of a Sunni cleric, was perched on top of the boxes, wrapped in plastic and paper as if it were a gift.

“This is the fate of every traitor,” said a note scribbled on the paper. “Hell will be his final destination.” The note said the man had killed four Shiite doctors and was slain in retaliation.

Police believe the other heads were of cousins, Sunnis who worked together driving trucks. A relative said the men were kidnapped en masse weeks ago as they drove to a Baghdad hospital to donate blood for an injured relative. Authorities have yet to find the eight bodies.

Also in Baqubah, rebels armed with machine guns and grenade launchers attacked a police checkpoint, killing six officers and a civilian and injuring five people. In a separate incident, four Shiite mechanics were slain by gunmen.

In Baghdad, police officers and U.S. soldiers recovered at least 22 bodies that had been burned, blindfolded, handcuffed, thrown into a river or dumped near a pediatric hospital.

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A roadside bomb hit an ambulance in Baghdad, killing a pregnant woman and injuring the driver. Gunmen fired at another ambulance, killing the driver and injuring a medic. Two other roadside bombs injured six police officers.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, a Kurdish politician was assassinated.

Times staff writers Saif Rasheed, Shamil Aziz and Suhail Ahmad in Baghdad and David Holley in Moscow contributed to this report.


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