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By Sinan Salaheddin
AP - The United Nations said Wednesday that violence claimed the lives of 7,818 civilians in Iraq in 2013, the highest annual death toll in years.

Over eight months of escalated violence has sparked fears that the country may be returning to the widespread bloodshed of 2004-2007 that saw tens of thousands killed each year. Death tolls dipped following a US troop surge and an alliance of Sunni militias with US forces against al-Qaida, but soaring sectarian distrust appears to be allowing the extremist network to rebuild.

Violence spiked in April after the Shiite-led government staged a deadly crackdown on a Sunni protest camp. Iraq's al-Qaida branch has fed on Sunni discontent and on the civil war in neighbouring Syria, in which mostly Sunni rebels fight a government whose base is a Shiite offshoot sect. It has targeted civilians, particularly in Shiite areas of Baghdad, with waves of co-ordinated car bombings and other deadly attacks.

The UN figures gave a total of 759 people killed in December alone, including 661 civilians and 98 members of the security forces. Another 1,345 were wounded, the statement said. The UN's monthly figures for both civilians and security forces over the year totalled 8,868.

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