Violence in and around the Iraqi city of Fallujah, held by anti-government fighters for months, has killed at least 295 people since late last year, a doctor said Wednesday.
At least 1,296 people have also been wounded in the area, a short drive west of Baghdad, between December 30 and May 7, Dr Ahmed Shami, chief medic at the city’s main hospital, told AFP.
The actual toll may be higher, as dead and wounded may have been taken to other hospitals or not at all.
A crisis erupted in the desert province of Anbar on December 30 when security forces dismantled Iraq’s main Sunni Arab anti-government protest camp just outside provincial capital Ramadi, to the west of Fallujah.
Anti-government fighters subsequently seized all of Fallujah and shifting parts of Ramadi, and security forces have failed to wrest back control.
It is the first time anti-government forces have exercised such open control in major cities since the peak of the deadly violence that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.
Security forces have periodically clashed with militants in areas around Fallujah, but the main source of casualties in the city has been persistent shellfire that has especially targeted southern neighbourhoods.
Bombardment in various areas of Fallujah killed seven people and wounded 45 from Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning, Shami said.
And in the northern city of Mosul, two people were shot dead, a police officer and a morgue employee said.
Iraq is suffering a protracted surge in unrest that the government has blamed on external factors such as the civil war in neighbouring Syria.
But analysts and diplomats say widespread anger in the minority Sunni Arab community over alleged mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led authorities has played a major role in the violence.
More than 3,100 people have been killed already this year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.
The unrest is the worst since Iraq emerged from brutal Sunni-Shiite sectarian fighting that peaked in 2006-2007 and killed tens of thousands of people.