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Estimate: 650,000 Civilians Have Died in Iraq

LYNN NEARY, host:

A team of American and Iraqi public health researchers estimates more than 600,000 civilians have died in violence across Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003. This is by far the highest estimate ever.

NPR's Anne Garrels reports.

ANNE GARRELS: Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health canvassed 1,800 residents across the country; their numbers are based on interviews, not a total body count. Coming just weeks before the U.S. Congressional elections, the timing and methodology are being scrutinized.

According to their findings, gunshot wounds caused 56 percent of the violent deaths, car bombs and other explosions 15 percent, with 31 percent of violent deaths caused by coalition forces.

This is the second study by Johns Hopkins. Previous findings were criticized as high in part because of its relatively narrow sampling. The researchers say this new study is more representative with most deaths substantiated by death certificates.

Their estimates for post-war violent deaths are more than 10 times the estimate of 49,000 made by the British-based Iraq Body Count research group. The Hopkins researchers say counts by others have focused disproportionately on Baghdad and that death rates in other areas were found to be higher.

Dozens of bodies continue to turn up each day in the capital, despite efforts by the American and Iraqi forces to stem sectarian violence. Bombings are up, according to the U.S. military.

Overnight, a series of huge explosions shook Baghdad, caused by a fire inside an ammunition holding area at a U.S. military base in southern Baghdad. The booms rattled houses miles away, causing the interior minister to reassure residents the situation was under control.

A Sunni insurgent group said it set off the fire when it attacked the base. However, U.S. military sources say it was a Shiite militia that triggered the blaze. There are no reported casualties.

Iraqi lawmakers are fleshing out a security plan introduced last week by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The plan now calls for joint Shiite and Sunni patrols in each Baghdad neighborhood. This reflects the deep mistrust between Shiites and Sunnis even within the security forces. However, security officials say it's unclear if such a plan is feasible.

Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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