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76,000 killed in Syria's deadliest year yet
by Staff Writers
Beirut (AFP) Jan 01, 2015

Iraq violence killed 15,000 in 2014, worst in 7 years: govt
Baghdad (AFP) Jan 01, 2015 - Violence in Iraq killed more than 15,000 civilians and security personnel in 2014, government figures showed Thursday, making it one of the deadliest years since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Figures compiled by the health, interior and defence ministries put the death toll at 15,538, compared with 17,956 killed in 2007 during the height of Sunni-Shiite sectarian killings.

Last year's toll was also more than double the 6,522 people killed in 2013.

"Yet again, the Iraqi ordinary citizen continues to suffer from violence and terrorism. 2014 has seen the highest number of causalities since the violence in 2006-2007. This is a very sad state of affairs," UN Iraq envoy Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement.

The UN put the number of civilians killed in Iraq during 2014 at 12,282.

Iraq Body Count, a Britain-based NGO that tracks violence in Iraq, gave an even higher toll, saying that 17,073 civilians were killed, which would make it the third deadliest year since 2003.

"For Iraqis, it has been the most difficult and painful of years because of the attack of the (Islamic State group) terrorist gangs," Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a New Year's speech, referring to jihadists responsible for much of the bloodshed.

The year got off to a bloody start, with the government losing control of parts of Anbar provincial capital Ramadi and all of Fallujah -- just a short drive from Baghdad -- to anti-government fighters.

The violence was sparked by the demolition of the country's main Sunni Arab anti-government protest camp near Ramadi in late 2013.

It spread to Fallujah, and security forces later withdrew from areas of both cities, leaving them open for capture.

That was a harbinger of events in June, when the Islamic State (IS) group spearheaded a major militant offensive that swept security forces aside.

The militants overran Iraq's second city Mosul and then drove south towards Baghdad, raising fears that the capital itself would be attacked.

They were eventually stopped short of the capital, but seized swathes of five provinces north and west of the city.

A renewed IS push in the north in August drove Kurdish forces back towards the capital of their autonomous region, helping to spark a US-led campaign of air strikes against the jihadists.

That effort has since been expanded to training for Iraqi forces aimed at preparing them as quickly as possible to join the fight against IS.

Iraqi soldiers and police, Kurdish forces, Shiite militias and Sunni tribesmen have succeeded in regaining some ground from the jihadists.

But large parts of the country, including three major cities, remain outside Baghdad's control.

Iraqis also suffer from daily bombings and shootings in Baghdad and elsewhere that claim hundreds of lives each month.

More than 76,000 people were killed in Syria's brutal conflict in 2014, making it the bloodiest year since the country's war erupted in March 2011, a monitoring group said Thursday.

The almost four-year-old conflict shows no sign of abating, with President Bashar al-Assad making a rare public appearance on a front line for New Year's Eve to bolster the morale of soldiers and pro-government fighters.

The war has become a multi-front conflict and contributed to the rise of jihadist groups such as the Islamic State.

It controls a swathe of territory in both Syria and neighbouring Iraq, where government figures showed at least 15,000 people were killed in 2014.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, recorded 76,021 deaths in Syria last year.

The Britain-based group documented the deaths of nearly 18,000 civilians throughout 2014, among them 3,501 children.

The majority of the deaths were combatants, including nearly 17,000 jihadists, 15,747 rebel forces and 22,627 regime troops and militiamen, it said.

- Assad visits front line -

On Wednesday night, Assad visited troops and pro-regime forces in the east Damascus district of Jobar.

The president's official Facebook and Twitter accounts carried photographs of him in civilian clothes talking with two soldiers by a tank and shaking hands with a third.

"As the New Year begins, President Assad is in Jobar with the soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army," the caption said.

"If there is still a bit of joy in Syria, it is thanks to the victories you are winning against terrorism," Assad was quoted as telling them.

State television aired footage showing Assad sharing a meal with troops and being saluted by soldiers.

Jobar is a former rebel stronghold, but government forces have advanced steadily into it in past months.

It is strategic because of its proximity to Abbasid Square in Damascus, which is key to controlling the centre of the city.

It also provides access to the rebels' main rear base on the outskirts of the capital, Eastern Ghouta.

Syria's conflict has killed more than 200,000 people, displaced nearly half the country's population and spilled over into its neighbours.

The Islamic State (IS) group that emerged from Al-Qaeda's one-time Iraqi affiliate now controls a self-proclaimed Islamic "caliphate" in parts of Iraq and Syria.

Its expansion, and bloody battles with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, contributed to making 2014 Iraq's bloodiest year since 2007.

- Bloody year for Iraq -

Figures compiled by the health, interior and defence ministries put the death toll at 15,538, compared with 17,956 killed in 2007, during the height of Sunni-Shiite sectarian killings.

The spiralling toll included clashes involving IS, but also bomb and shooting attacks.

The fight against IS has drawn the United States back to Iraq, where it is training Iraqi forces and leading an international coalition to carry out air strikes against the group.

On Thursday, the Pentagon said coalition forces had carried out 17 strikes overnight in Syria, and 12 raids in Iraq.

Elsewhere, a video purporting to show two Italian aid workers kidnapped in northern Syria in August was posted online.

The footage showed two women dressed in black robes and headscarves identifying themselves as Vanessa Marzullo and Greta Ramelli.

The two, both in their twenties, were abducted at gunpoint by an unknown group in Aleppo province last year.

In the video, one of the women holds a piece of paper identifying the date as December 17, and the other urges the Italian government to win their release.

The video title on YouTube identifies them as hostages of Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

On the political front, Russia has invited 28 Syrian opposition figures to Moscow for talks later this month in preparation for a dialogue with the regime, an opposition source told AFP.

They include the head of the key National Coalition grouping, Hadi al-Bahra, and two former Coalition chiefs, Moaz al-Khatib and Abdel Basset Sida.

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