BAGHDAD, 2 June-2014, AP: Violence claimed the lives of 799 Iraqis in May, the highest monthly death toll so far this year, the United Nations said Sunday, underlining the daunting challenges the Iraqi government faces as it struggles to contain a surge in sectarian violence.
The figures issued by the United Nations mission to Iraq put last month’s civilian death toll at 603, with 196 members of security forces killed. The mission added that 1,409 Iraqis, including 1,108 civilians, were wounded. The previous month’s death toll stood at 750, making April the second deadliest month of the year.
Despite the constant militant attacks that have left a vital oil pipeline idle, Iraq’s crude oil exports increased slightly in May, the Oil Ministry said Sunday. The worst-hit city was the capital, Baghdad, with 315 people killed. The northern province of Nineveh came in second with 113, followed by nearby Salahuddin Province with 94.
The figures exclude deaths in Anbar Province, where militants have controlled parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi, and nearby Falluja since December.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a powerful affiliate of Al Qaeda that also operates in neighboring Syria, has intensified its attacks across Iraq as political rivals work to form a new government after parliamentary elections on April 30.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s bloc emerged as the biggest winner, securing 92 seats in the 328-member Parliament, but it failed to gain the majority needed to govern alone.
“I strongly deplore the sustained level of violence and terrorist acts that continues rocking the country,” the United Nations special representative in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement.
“I urge the political leaders to work swiftly for the formation of an inclusive government within the constitutionally mandated time frame and focus on a substantive solution to the situation in Anbar,” he said.
Last year, the death toll climbed to its highest levels since the worst of the sectarian strife in 2006 and 2007, when the country was on the brink of civil war. The United Nations says 8,868 people were killed in 2013.
The 2011 withdrawal of American forces, which for eight years had often acted as a buffer between Shiites and Sunnis, is thought to have contributed to the rise in violence, in addition to the use of deadly force by the Shiite-led security forces against Sunni protesters.
The violence is a constant threat to disrupt Iraq’s economy, but the country’s oil exports averaged 2.6 million barrels a day last month, an increase from the 2.5 million barrels per day in April, said a ministry spokesman, Assem Jihad. Mr. Jihad said the sales grossed about $8 billion monthly, based on an average price of $100.08 per barrel. April’s revenues stood at about $7.6 billion.
He added that all the oil was exported through the country’s facilities on the Persian Gulf because the pipeline that goes to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan has been idle since March as a result of terrorist attacks. The pipeline, which pumps 300,000 to 400,000 barrels a day and traverses the restive Sunni-dominated areas of northern Iraq, has been a favorite target for militants.
Iraq holds the world’s fourth largest oil reserves, about 143 billion barrels. Insurgent attacks, infrastructure bottlenecks and disputes with the northern self-ruled Kurdish region over rights to develop natural resources have been the main obstacles to Iraq’s increasing oil production and exports.
In 2009, the Kurds contributed oil officially for the first time through a Baghdad-controlled pipeline, but shipments were interrupted many times over payment disputes.
Iraq has been struggling to develop its oil and gas sectors since the American-led invasion in 2003, when the deteriorating security situation scared many investors away. Daily oil production and exports have climbed steadily since 2011, nearly two years after Iraq awarded rights to develop its major oil fields to international oil companies. Oil revenues make up nearly 95 percent of Iraq’s budget.