In its most extensive death tally of the Iraq war, the U.S. military says nearly 77,000 Iraqi civilians and security officials were killed from early 2004 to mid-2008 — a toll that falls well below Iraqi government figures.

The military’s count, which spans the bloodiest chapter of Iraq’s sectarian warfare and the U.S. troop surge to quell it, is short of the 85,694 figure released last year by the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry that covers early 2004 to Oct. 31, 2008.

Casualty figures in the U.S.-led war in Iraq have been hotly disputed because of the high political stakes in a conflict opposed by many countries and a large portion of the American public. Critics on each side of the divide accuse the other of manipulating the death toll to sway opinion.

The U.S. military has repeatedly resisted Associated Press requests to share its comprehensive figures on Iraqi civilian casualties, and the new data was released without comment or explanation when it was quietly posted on the U.S. Central Command’s website in July.

The figures were discovered this week during a routine check by The AP for civilian and military casualty numbers that were first requested in 2005 through the Freedom of Information Act. A spokesman at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., could not immediately explain how the tally was compiled or why it was released.

The spokesman, Lt. Col. Michael T. Lawhorn, also could not clarify Thursday whether the new casualty numbers included suspected insurgents, or whether government-backed Sunni fighters known as Sahwa, or Awakening Councils, were included in the number of Iraqi security forces killed.

In all, the U.S. data tallied 76,939 Iraqi security officials and civilians killed and 121,649 wounded between January 2004 and August 2008. The count shows 3,952 American and other U.S.-allied international troops were killed over the same period.

Source: Lara Jakes for the Associated Press.

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