by Jay Deshmukh 2 hours, 45 minutes ago
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq criticised Baghdad on Wednesday for concealing the casualty figures from its sectarian war and charged that many detainees have "disappeared".
While placing the blame for the majority of violent civilian deaths on the insurgents and illegal militias fighting in Iraq, UNAMI expressed concern about the human rights record of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government.
In its quarterly report on the human rights situation, the UN mission said the Iraqi government had stopped providing casualty figures and denied that its previous reports had exaggerated the death toll in the conflict.
In a report on January 16, UNAMI said more than 34,400 people had died in the daily acts of violence across the country in 2006.
"The prime minister's office told UNAMI that the mortality figures contained in the report were exaggerated, although they were in fact figures compiled and provided by a government ministry," UNAMI said on Wednesday.
"It was a matter of regret that the Iraqi government did not provide UNAMI with access to the ministry of health's overall mortality figures for the reporting period.
"UNAMI emphasises again the utmost need for the Iraqi government to operate in a transparent manner and does not accept the government's suggestion that UNAMI used the mortality figures in an inappropriate fashion."
At a news conference to launch the latest report, UN human rights officer Ivana Vuco insisted: "These figures are probably the most carefully screened.
"Unofficially in follow-up meetings we were told that the government was concerned that people would misconstrue the figures to portray a grim situation," she said.
Maliki's office hit back at the UN mission and complained that its latest report lacked credibility.
"Despite the Iraqi government's full cooperation and transparency in dealing with the UN delegation in Iraq, much of the information contained in the report was not taken from credible sources," it said.
"Considering the conditions which Iraq is currently enduring, this report calls into question the credibility of the United Nations office in Iraq, aggravating the humanitarian situation instead of resolving it."
While being unable to provide statistics because of the government's decision, the new report for the first quarter of 2007 said violence remained a serious problem in Iraq, despite a US and Iraqi security operation.
"In February and March, sectarian violence claimed the lives of large numbers of civilians, including women and children, in both Shiite and Sunni neighbourhoods," the report said.
"While government officials claimed an initial drop in the number of killings in the latter half of February following the launch of the Baghdad Security Plan, the number of reported casualties rose again in March."
Iraqi and US officials insist the civilian death toll from Iraq's sectarian war has declined since the plan began on February 14, but refuse to release detailed figures to back up the assertion.
A US embassy official also criticised the UNAMI report.
He said the health ministry -- the key source for providing data to UNAMI in previous reports used to be run by loyalists of Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr and was "viewed essentially by many as not reporting accurately".
"It had a political agenda. It was trying to undermine any confidence in the programme of the government. It was giving numbers that did not have any detail background," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
The Baghdad Security Plan seeks to quell the violence but Vuco said it also had increased the potential for the abuse of detainees' human rights.
"The disappearance of detainees still continues," she said. "We have serious concerns that not all detainees are being registered. We found people looking for detained family members who they were unable to locate."
Most of these detainees are held for "prolonged periods of time without charge in overcrowded conditions," she said.
At least 37,641 people were being held in detention centres across Iraq as of end of March, UNAMI said, adding of these about 3,000 were detained since the Baghdad crackdown began.
The US-led coalition continued to hold 17,898 people, while the rest were in the custody of Iraqi authorities.
UNAMI said that at least 736,422 Iraqis had fled their homes since the sectarian unrest flared up in February last year, on top of 1.2 million who had been displaced previously.