Baghdad U.N. officials accused Iraq on Wednesday of withholding civilian death figures to try to deflect attention from escalating violence and a worsening humanitarian crisis despite the U.S.-led Baghdad security crackdown.
Those conclusions by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq drew a sharp rebuke from the Iraq's political leadership, which called the report "unbalanced" and said it raised questions about the credibility of the U.N. staff in Iraq.
The clashing views over the document - which covered three months ending March 31 - reflect a wider debate that goes beyond attempts to tally the bloodshed: whether the Baghdad security operation has made any lasting progress since the crackdown was launched in mid-February.
While some measures suggest the capital is less violent - such as apparent Shiite death squad killings reportedly on the decline - bombings blamed on Sunni insurgents have continued with deadly frequency.
"Armed groups from all sides continued to target the civilian population," said the 30-page report.
The report's critical tone complicate efforts to win financial aid pledges from Iraq's neighbors during a regional conference in Egypt next week.
The report avoided any judgment of the military effectiveness of the drive to regain control of Baghdad. But it took issue with tactics used against Iraqi civilians in the city - alleging, for example, that whole families were often taken into custody at random during security sweeps.
"The government of Iraq continued to face immense security challenges in the face of growing violence and armed opposition to its authority and the rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis," the report said.
The report draws attention to the absence of a comprehensive, accurate count of the number of Iraqis who have died since the war began in March 2003. Last year, a study by British scientists published in The Lancet medical journal concluded that more than 600,000 Iraqis had been killed since the U.S.-led invasion. President Bush said he did not consider it "a credible report."
Iraq Body Count, a private group that relies on published reports, estimates the civilian death toll for the war between about 62,400 and 68,430.