A report has unveiled a “staggering” civilian death toll in Iraq, with nearly 19,000 people killed in less than two years.
At least 18,802 civilians were killed and another 36,245 wounded between 1 January 2014 and 31 October 2015, according to the UN report.
The report details killings by the Islamic State (IS) group including by shooting and beheading, as well as by being burned, thrown off buildings or being run over by bulldozers.
The report also stated that IS is believed to be holding approximately 3,500 people, predominantly women and children from the country’s Yazidi minority, captive as slaves.
IS swept across northern and western Iraq in the summer of 2014 plunging the country into its worst political and security crisis since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011.
Another 800 to 900 children were abducted from Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, for religious and military training, while a number of IS child soldiers were killed by the extremists when they tried to flee fighting in the western Anbar province.
The report said such acts are “systematic and widespread... abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law”, adding: “These acts may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.”
Iraqi forces have advanced against the IS group on a number of fronts in recent months and driven them out of the western city of Ramadi.
But UN envoy Jan Kubis said in a statement that “despite their steady losses to pro-government forces, the scourge of Isil continues to kill, maim and displace Iraqi civilians in the thousands and to cause untold suffering.”
UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein said the civilian death toll may be considerably higher.
“Even the obscene casualty figures fail to accurately reflect exactly how terribly civilians are suffering in Iraq,” he said.
IS swept across northern and western Iraq in the summer of 2014 and controls much of Iraq and neighbouring Syria. It has set up a self-styled caliphate in the territories under its control, which it governs with a harsh and violent interpretation of Islamic law.
The most up-to-date UN estimate of internally displaced people in Syria is 6.5 million, while more than 4.6 million others have fled to neighbouring states.