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Attacks kill 703 in Iraq last month

The United Nations said Saturday that violence across Iraq in February killed 703 people, a death toll higher than the year before as the country faces a rising wave of militant attacks rivaling the sectarian bloodshed that followed the U.S.-led invasion.

The figures issued by the U.N.'s mission to Iraq is close to January's death toll of 733, showing that a surge of violence that began 10 months ago with a government crackdown on a Sunni protest camp is not receding. Meanwhile, attacks Saturday killed at least five people and wounded 14, authorities said.

Attacks in February killed 564 civilians and 139 security force members in February, the U.N. said. The violence wounded 1,381, the vast majority civilians, it said. That compares to February 2013, when attacks killed 418 civilians and wounded 704.

The capital, Baghdad, was the worst affected with 239 people killed, according to the U.N. Two predominantly Sunni provinces — central Salaheddin with 121 killed and northern Ninevah with 94 killed — followed.

U.N. mission chief Nickolay Mladenov appealed to Iraqis to stop the violence.

"The political, social and religious leaders of Iraq have an urgent responsibility to come together in the face of the terrorist threat that the country is facing," Mladenov said in a statement. "Only by working together can Iraqis address the causes of violence and build a democratic society in which rule of law is observed and human rights are protected."

February's numbers could be even worse that the U.N. reported, however, as it again excluded deaths from ongoing fighting in Anbar province, due to problems in verifying the "status of those killed." It did the same in January.

Widespread chaos nearly tore the country apart following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. The violence ebbed in 2008 after a series of U.S.-Iraqi military offensives, a Shiite militia cease-fire and a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq.

But last year, the country saw the highest death toll since the worst of the country's sectarian bloodletting, according to the U.N., with 8,868 people killed.

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