BAGHDAD — An alarming number of Iraqis killed “execution-style” last month signaled an increase in targeted killings as the overall death toll in Iraq so far this year rose above 8,000, the U.N. said Sunday. The bodies, usually dumped on the street and mutilated, have heightened fears that the country is sliding back toward all-out warfare between Sunni and Shiite factions.
Underscoring the dangers, three bombs tore through the funeral procession of the son of an anti-al-Qaida Sunni tribal chief northeast of Baghdad, the deadliest in a wave of attacks that killed 17 people Sunday, Iraqi officials said.
Widespread chaos nearly tore the country apart following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated government. Extremists from both Islamic sects battled each other and American forces, killing tens of thousands.
A series of U.S.-Iraqi military offensives, a Shiite militia cease-fire and a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq helped tamp down the violence. Attacks, however, continued on a near-daily basis and political tensions remained high between Sunnis and the majority Shiites who consolidated their power after the American military withdrew in December 2011.
The bloodshed accelerated sharply after a deadly April 23 crackdown by security forces on a northern Sunni protest camp, capping months of relatively peaceful demonstrations against alleged abuse at the hands of the Shiite-led government. Some Shiite leaders already have issued a call to arms, saying it is self-defense in the face of relentless bombings and shootings that have left thousands dead in Shiite areas this year.
The death toll in Iraq dropped to at least 659 in November— including 565 civilians and 94 security forces, compared with 979 in October, according to the U.N. mission in Iraq. The U.N. also said 1,373 Iraqis were wounded in attacks last month, compared with 1,902 in October.
Baghdad and surrounding areas saw the highest number killed last month, at 224, followed by the volatile northern Ninevah province, with 107.
In all, at least 7,157 civilians and 952 Iraqi security forces have been killed since January, the U.N. said.
U.N. envoy to Iraq Nickolay Mladenov singled out an increase in the number of bullet-riddled bodies found, including some that were beheaded, and urged the Iraqi government to move quickly to find the attackers and hold them responsible.
Last week, Iraqi police found 31 bodies of men, women and children who were shot in the head in three separate places around Baghdad, recalling the height of sectarian violence in 2006-2007 when extremists abducted and killed members of other religious groups, although the numbers remain significantly lower.