BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Volunteers hunting for bodies in Fallujah find a woman and her daughter in their home, killed in the siege but undiscovered for days. Chanting mourners bury two boys caught in the crossfire of a Baghdad gunfight. A morgue in Basra overflows with torn and burned bodies from a suicide bombing.
Victims — young and old, women and men, insurgents and innocents — have been piling up day by day, making April the deadliest month for Iraqis — and Americans — since the fall of Saddam Hussein a year ago.
Official and complete death counts for Iraqis nationwide are unavailable. But a count by The Associated Press found that around 1,361 Iraqis were killed from April 1 to April 30 — 10 times the figure of at least 136 U.S. troops who died during the same period.
The Iraqi tally was compiled from daily records of violence reported by AP based on statements issued by the U.S. military, Iraqi police and local hospitals. The count includes civilians, insurgents and members of the Iraqi security forces, though a detailed breakdown was not possible. The Iraqi health ministry and the Red Crescent could not be reached Friday.
Also, the tally is likely incomplete, because witnesses reported deaths in some attacks that could not be confirmed by a hospital, the Iraqi police or U.S. officials.
The daily carnage, seen by Iraqis before their own eyes and in bloody images and photos transmitted around the country by Arab television and Iraqi newspapers, has heightened anti-U.S. sentiment across the country — even when the deaths were caused by insurgent attacks.
The siege of Fallujah, where Americans unleashed their arsenal of warplanes and tanks, became a symbol of resistance that rallied many Iraqis — Shiite and Sunni — to the anti-occupation cause.
And the sheer variety of violence — car suicide bombs, roadside bombs, insurgent rocket and mortar attacks on civilian neighborhoods, gunbattles — has deepened Iraqis’ sense of instability and left them skeptical of U.S. promises of peace and prosperity.
“For this to be happening a year after Saddam fell, Iraqis are shocked,” said Mahmoud Othman, a member of the U.S.-picked Governing Council.
“This shows that the United States cannot rule Iraqi properly. They thought they could do a better job than if they created an Iraqi government right from the start.”
The majority of Iraqi deaths likely took place in the Marine siege of Fallujah, but the toll there has been a source of controversy. The head of Fallujah’s hospital, Rafie al-Issawi, said Friday his records show 731 killed and around 2,800 wounded since the Marine siege began on April 1, though he could not immediately provide a breakdown on how many were women or children. His number is factored into the AP count.
The Iraqi health minister, Khudayer Abbas, gave a much lower number on April 22, saying 271 people were killed in the city. He also put the total number of Iraqi dead for the month so far, including Fallujah, at 576 — far lower than the AP count.
U.S. officials have said they do not have a count of Iraqi civilians killed this month. On April 20, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said troops had killed 1,000 insurgents in April. That number was not factored into the AP count because it was not known what specific battles he was referring to.
By comparison, the next deadliest month for Iraqis since the start of the U.S. occupation was March, when 301 Iraqi civilians were killed, according to the Brookings Institution, which keeps a rough but widely respected monthly tally.
The Brookings number does not include insurgent or Iraqi police deaths, as the AP’s April tally does. But at the most, a few dozen armed Iraqis died in March, not nearly enough to reach the number of April’s dead.
The April toll still falls short of the number of Iraqi deaths during the U.S. invasion. An AP survey of records from 60 of Iraq’s 124 hospitals found that at least 3,240 civilians died from March 20, 2003, to April 20, 2003; the complete number during that period is sure to be significantly higher.
The AP count includes single attacks that caused large numbers of casualties. In Basra, 74 people were killed when suicide attackers set off five car bombs nearly simultaneously outside police stations on April 21. A day earlier, a mortar barrage by guerrillas against Baghdad’s largest prison, Abu Ghraib, killed 22 prisoners, all of them detainees held on suspicion of being members of the insurgency.
It also includes U.S. reports of insurgents killed in fighting with American troops. The military said 100 Sunni guerrillas were killed in a fierce battle April 12-13 in the village of Karma, outside Fallujah, and that 64 Shiite militiamen died Monday in U.S. airstrikes and a firefight outside Najaf, south of Baghdad.
But many of the deaths came in small incidents around Baghdad or scattered around the country as violence stretched from the far north to the far south.
A volley of mortars hit the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City on Saturday, some hitting a market, killing six people. Another shell pierced a home, went through two floors and tore a woman sleeping in her bed to pieces.
In Baghdad on Thursday, Mostapha Fadhl, 6, and Mostapha Salah, 7, were playing near a road in western Baghdad when insurgents attacked a U.S. patrol nearby. In the gunbattle that ensued, the boys were wounded and later died.
The carnage in Fallujah, where U.S. Marines battled to uproot Sunni insurgents from their greatest stronghold, traumatized an entire city. Residents blame many of the deaths on Marine snipers or bombings by warplanes, including fearsome AC-130 gunships and F-18s dropping 500-pound bombs.
Two football fields were turned into cemeteries, with hundreds of freshly dug graves, marked with wooden planks scrawled with names — some with names of women, some marked specifically as children. At one of the fields, an AP reporter was told by volunteer gravediggers on April 11 that more than 300 people had been buried there.
On Friday, with the U.S. military trying to implement a tentative deal to lift the siege, volunteers drove around looking for the dead that never made it to hospitals or graveyards. At least eight highly decomposed bodies were loaded into station wagons, including those of a woman and her daughter found in a home in the Golan neighborhood, scene of heavy fighting this week.
During the height of the siege, residents were unable to get outside, so an unknown number of dead were buried in backyards.
“We buried two of my relatives at home,” said Ahmed Ghanim al-Ali, a doctor at one of five local clinics in Fallujah that have been treating the wounded and counting the dead. “We cannot give the total number of martyrs.”
AP correspondents Abdul-Qader Saadi and Bassem Mroue in Fallujah contributed to this report.