BAGHDAD — Execution-style killings, not headline-grabbing bombings, have been the leading cause of death among civilians in the Iraq war, a study released Wednesday shows.
The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, point to the brutal sectarian nature of the conflict, where death squads once roamed the streets hunting down members of a rival Muslim sect.
Estimates of the number of civilians killed in Iraq vary widely. The study was based on the database maintained by Iraq Body Count, a private group that among other sources uses media reports, including those of The Associated Press.
The authors concede the figures are not comprehensive but maintain that the study provides a reliable gauge of how Iraqis have died in the 6-year conflict.
The study focused on 60,481 deaths linked to specific events, excluding Iraqis killed in prolonged episodes of violence during the U.S.-led invasion and the U.S. sieges of the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah in 2004.
The study found that 19,706 of the victims, or 33 percent, were abducted and killed execution-style, with nearly a third of those showing signs of torture such as bruises, drill holes or burns.
That compared with 16,922, or 27 percent, who died in bombings, most of them in suicide attacks.