Combined with tallies based on hospital sources and media reports since the beginning of the war and a review of available evidence by the AP, the figures show that more than 110,000 Iraqis have died in violence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The Health Ministry death tally, provided by a government official on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the data, counts deaths from the beginning of 2005 until Feb. 28. It excludes thousands of people who are missing and civilians who were buried in the chaos of war without official notice.
The figure includes only violent deaths - people killed in attacks such as shootings, bombings, mortar attacks and beheadings. It excludes 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, British-based group, has tallied civilian deaths from media reports and other sources since the war's start. Combining its figures, which are corroborated by the AP's own reporting and that of other reputable sources, with the Health Ministry figures shows that more than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the war.
The AP reviewed the Iraq Body Count 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.
Meanwhile, the numbers continued to rise Thursday, as two separate suicide attacks killed at least 78 people in the deadliest day of violence to strike the country this year.
The bombings are the latest in a series of high-profile attacks that have raised concern of an uptick in violence as the U.S. military scales back its forces in Iraq ahead of a planned withdrawal by the end of 2011.
The latest attacks came as Iraqi security officials one of the most wanted leaders of the al Qaeda-linked Sunni insurgency, an arrest that could deliver a significant blow to an intensified campaign of attacks.
The officials identified the arrested man as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi who's believed to lead the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group of Sunni militant factions that is believed dominated by Al Qaeda in Iraq. However in the past, Iraqi officials have reported al-Baghdadi's arrest or killing, only to later say they were wrong. The U.S. military has even said al-Baghdadi could be a fictitious character used to give an Iraqi face to an organization dominated by foreign al Qaeda fighters.
In Baghdad, a suicide bomber blew himself up among a group of Iraqis collecting humanitarian aid in a mainly Shiite area, killing at least 31 people, the Iraqi military said.
The attacker struck as police were distributing Iraqi Red Crescent food parcels in the central neighborhood of Karradah, the main Baghdad military spokesman said.
It not immediately clear who carried out the attack, but one witness said it appeared to be a woman. Women have been used in suicide bombings in Iraq, most recently during a Feb. 13 attack on Shiite pilgrims in Musayyib.
Muhanad Harbi, a shop owner near the blast site, said he saw a woman wearing a black robe wade into the crowd. He said it appeared she detonated an explosives belt.
Shanoon Humoud, 70, sat weeping amid burned food packages scattered on the ground. Her husband, her son and two grandchildren were killed in the blast.
Humoud said she was in her apartment praying when she heard the blast.
"I came down to look for my relatives who were getting the food," she said. "But I couldn't find them."
Some police were among the 31 people killed and 51 people were wounded, the military said.
North of Baghdad, a suicide bomber killed 47 people, including Iranian pilgrims, in a crowded restaurant, said Iraqi and U.S. military officials.
Military spokesman Derrick Cheng said 47 people were killed and about 69 were wounded when the suicide bomber detonated an explosives vest near Muqdadiyah, an insurgent hotbed about 60 miles (90 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad.
Iraqi police and hospital officials said another 65 were wounded. Most of the wounded were pilgrims, the officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Also Thursday, American soldiers who specialize in clearing bombs from roads boarded a plane Thursday from Iraq to the Taliban heartland in southern Afghanistan, part of the largest movement of personnel and equipment between the two war fronts.
President Barack Obama is deploying 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan to beef up U.S. operations there.
U.S. military commanders have said the sharp decline in violence in Iraq and the increasing capabilities of Iraq's security forces made it possible to transition the soldiers.