BAGHDAD - At least 87,215 Iraqis - civilians as well as security personnel - have been killed since 2005 in violence ranging from bombings to execution-style slayings, according to government statistics, obtained by the Associated Press, that break open one of the most closely guarded secrets of the war.
The tally by the Iraqi Health Ministry could include a small number of insurgent casualties, according to an official who provided the data to the AP on condition of anonymity because of its sensitivity.
Combined with tallies based on hospital sources and media reports since the beginning of the war - in 2003 - and a review of available evidence by the Associated Press, more than 110,600 Iraqis have died in violence since the U.S.-led invasion.
The number is a minimum count of violent deaths.
The official who provided the data to the AP estimated that the actual number of deaths is 10 percent to 20 percent higher because thousands are still missing and many civilians were buried in the chaos of war without official records.
The Health Ministry has tallied death certificates since 2005, and late that year the United Nations began using them - along with hospital and morgue figures - to publicly release casualty counts.
But by early 2007, when sectarian violence was putting political pressure on the U.S. and Iraqi governments, the Iraqi numbers disappeared.
The United Nations "repeatedly asked for that cooperation" to resume but didn't get a response, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said yesterday.
The data obtained by the AP measure only violent deaths - people killed in attacks such as shootings, bombings, mortar attacks and beheadings. It excluded indirect factors such as damage to infrastructure, health care and stress that caused thousands more to die.
Authoritative statistics for 2003 and 2004 do not exist.
But Iraq Body Count, a private, Britain-based group, has tallied civilian deaths from media reports and other sources since the war's start.
The AP reviewed Iraq Body Count's analysis and confirmed its conclusions by sifting the data and consulting experts. The AP also interviewed experts involved with previous studies, prominent Iraq analysts and provincial and medical officials to determine that the new tally was credible.
The AP also added its own tabulation of deaths since Feb. 28, the last date in the Health Ministry count.
The three figures add up to more than 110,600 Iraqis who have died in the war; dozens were killed in suicide bombings yesterday.
That total generally coincides with the trends reported by reputable surveys, which have been compiled either by tallying deaths reported by international journalists, or by surveying samplings of Iraqi households and extrapolating the overall death toll.
Iraq Body Count's estimate of deaths since the start of the war, excluding police and soldiers, is a range - between 91,466 and 99,861.
The numbers show just how traumatic the war has been for Iraq. In a nation of 29 million people, the deaths represent 0.38 percent of the population. Proportionally, that would be like the United States losing 1.2 million people to violence in the four-year period. About 17,000 people are murdered every year in the United States.
Security has improved since the worst years, but almost every person in Iraq has been touched by the violence.
"We have lost everything," said Badriya Abbas Jabbar, 54. A 2007 truck bombing targeting a market near her Baghdad home killed three granddaughters, a son and a niece.
North of the capital in the city of Baqubah, a mother shrouded in black calls to her three sons from her doorstep. She calls out as if they were alive, but they were killed in April 2007, when Shiite Muslim militiamen barged into their auto parts store and gunned them down because they were Sunni.
The Health Ministry figures show how deadly such violence was. Of the 87,215 deaths, 59,957 came in 2006 and 2007, when sectarian attacks soared.
The ministry official said that some slain insurgents could be part of the count but that he believed that number was small because few insurgents went to hospitals for treatment for fear of detection and many insurgent groups buried their fighters without getting death certificates.
Quantifying the loss has always been difficult. Records were not always compiled centrally and the brutal insurgency sharply limited on-the-scene reporting. The U.S. military never shared its data.
Under Saddam Hussein, the Health Ministry compiled casualty figures even as U.S. troops closed in on Baghdad, though it later abandoned the effort. It resumed in fits, and finally began reliable record-keeping at the start of 2005.
Those data were provided to the AP in the form of a two-page computer printout listing yearly totals for death certificates issued for violent deaths by hospitals and morgues between Jan. 1, 2005, and Feb. 28, 2009.
The ministry does not have figures for the first two years of the war because it was devastated in the invasion.
Experts said the count constitutes an important baseline, albeit an incomplete one. Richard Brennan, who has done mortality research in Congo and Kosovo, said it was likely a "gross underestimate" because many deaths go unrecorded in war zones.
Mass graves have been turning up as improved security allows patrols in formerly off-limits areas, but how many remain may never be known.
The death toll in Iraq is a hotly disputed subject because of the high political stakes in a war opposed by many countries and by a large portion of the American public. Critics on each side accuse the other of manipulating the death numbers to sway opinion.
While the Pentagon maintains meticulous records of the number of American troops killed - at least 4,276 as of yesterday - it does not publicly release comprehensive Iraqi casualty figures.
In 2003, AP journalists traveled across Iraq to search hospital records for civilian deaths during the first chaotic month of the invasion.
They found that 3,240 civilians died that month, including 1,896 in Baghdad, but acknowledged that number was a fraction of the total because record-keeping often fell victim to the bloodshed.
Beginning in May 2005, the AP has tracked war-related casualties as reported by police, hospital and government officials, mosque workers and verifiable witness accounts, breaking down the victims into civilians, soldiers and police.
That tally is now 46,065, including 37,205 civilians, but also underrepresents the true casualty number because many killings go unreported, especially in remote areas.