BAGHDAD (AFP) - Violence in Iraq surged in 2013 to its worst level in five years, fuelled by widespread discontent among the Sunni Arab minority and Syria's civil war, figures released Wednesday showed.
Bombs tore through markets, cafes, football fields and mosques, militants assaulted prisons, police stations and other government facilities, and families were killed in their homes.
And while Iraqi security forces carried out widespread operations targeting militants, they have yet to curb the violence, and the mass arrests they sometimes make may ultimately contribute to the problem.
"One has to go back to 2008 to find comparable levels of violence," Iraq Body Count (IBC), a Britain-based NGO that tracks violence in Iraq, said in a statement.
"In 2008, however, that was a declining total from the much higher levels of 2006-2007, with the second half of 2008 less violent than the first," IBC said.
"In 2013, the trend is in the opposite direction, with around two thirds of the deaths occurring in the second half of the year," it said.
"If current violence levels continue unabated throughout the coming year, then 2014 threatens to be as deadly as 2004, which saw the two sieges of Fallujah (by United States-led troops) and Iraq's insurgency take hold." Death tolls vary widely, but all point to a sharp rise in violence.
IBC said it recorded 9,475 civilian deaths in Iraq in 2013, compared to 10,130 in 2008, while Iraqi government figures indicated that 7,154 people died in 2013 violence, among them security forces and militants, while 8,995 were killed in 2008.
Tolls for intervening years were much lower, sometimes less than half the 2013 figures.
Over the course of the year, militants repeatedly targeted civilians, but were also able to strike targets that should have been highly secure.
In July, for instance, militants carried out coordinated assaults on the Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons near Baghdad, freeing hundreds of inmates and leaving dozens of people dead.
The year also saw a number of attacks on Iraqi journalists, with 12 killed in the last three months of 2013.