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By Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD — More than 2,400 Iraqis were killed in June, the highest monthly death toll in seven years, as a fierce Sunni Muslim insurgency threatens to plunge the country back into civil war.
Figures released Tuesday by the United Nations showed that at least 2,417 Iraqis were killed and 2,287 injured across the country. More than 60 percent of the dead were civilians.

The U.N. said its statistics did not include casualties from the western province of Anbar, where insurgents led by the Islamic State, an al-Qaida splinter group, have seized key towns and border crossings and are locked in clashes with Iraqi security forces. At least 244 civilians were killed and 588 injured there, according to provincial health officials.

It marked the deadliest 30-day period in Iraq since mid-2007, the height of the country’s sectarian war, when well over 2,000 civilians were killed every month, according to statistics compiled by Iraq Body Count, an independent website.

“The staggering number of civilian casualties in one month points to the urgent need for all to ensure that civilians are protected,” said the ranking U.N. official in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov.
The worst affected area was Baghdad, where 375 civilians were killed and 715 injured, the U.N. said.

Fears of further violence grew Tuesday after Iraqi officials reported that mortar shells struck the perimeter of Al-Askari mosque in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, killing at least one person and wounding 14. The mosque is one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam, and its destruction by Sunni insurgents in 2006 was the catalyst for the years of sectarian bloodletting that followed.

The golden-domed mosque was rebuilt, and thousands of Iraqi troops and volunteer Shiite militiamen are reportedly guarding the site. Last week the Iraqi army said it had full control of the highway from Baghdad to Samarra after a U.S.-supported operation to clear the area of insurgents.

The Islamic State seized the northern city of Mosul on June 9 and has since consolidated its hold over large parts of northern and western Iraq. The insurgency has crippled the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who was fighting to secure a third term as Iraqi lawmakers opened a new session of parliament Tuesday morning.

AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye

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