Story Highlights• Report: Deteriorating security in Baghdad is causing civilians to flee
• At least 100,000 children are among those escaping, the Red Crescent says
• Powerful Shiite clerics meet prime minister to talk security and reconciliation
• 9 U.S. soldiers, 1 Marine die in Iraq on Tuesday
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes to escape the war and escalating sectarian violence in Iraq, the country's Ministry of Displaced Persons and Immigration announced Wednesday.
The ministry said the deteriorating security situation in Baghdad was primarily to blame for 53,788 families leaving their homes.
That means at least half a million people have been displaced since the February bombing of the Askariya mosque in Samarra, a holy Shiite shrine, as the average Iraqi family consists of eight to 10 members, the chairman of the Iraqi Red Crescent told CNN.
Among the displaced are at least 100,000 children, said Dr. Said Ismail Hakki, and a fifth of the displaced have fled during the last four weeks.
Numbers of people fleeing differ among government and research groups tracking the demographic shifts, but all the figures are alarmingly high.
On Tuesday the Brookings Institution published a study showing the displacement of Iraqis due to sectarian violence is contributing to the division of Iraq "along religious and ethnic lines."
"Sunni Arabs have been fleeing to Sunni areas (the displaced group that has grown the most); Shias have been fleeing to Shia areas; Kurds have been fleeing to the northern provinces and Christians to parts of Nineveh province. Formerly mixed towns have become Sunni or Shia," the report said. (Watch Baghdad bomb wreckage, witnesses describe carnage -- 1:43 )
The study, conducted with the University of Bern in Switzerland, took aim at the government's earlier report that 234,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since February, saying the figure is too low. "Many displaced persons do not register, and tracking numbers is highly politicized. Since 2003, more than 800,000 have fled Iraq seeking refuge abroad," the report said.
Since the Askariya mosque bombing, Shiite "restraint has diminished," as have the voices of moderation such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the report said.
Last week, the U.N.'s refugee agency said an estimated 1.5 million people have fled their homes to other areas within Iraq itself, including more than 365,000 since February. An additional 1.6 million Iraqis have fled the country, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said, calling it "a steady, silent exodus." (Details)
The Switzerland-based International Organization for Migration puts the number of Iraqis displaced from their homes since the eruption of sectarian violence earlier this year at nearly 190,000. In the last two months, 9,000 people per week on average were being forced to flee, said the group, which reviewed 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces.
Shiite clerics meet al-Maliki
To grapple with the raging violence, al-Sistani, long considered Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, and Muqtada al-Sadr, an anti-U.S. Shiite cleric, met with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki Wednesday in the southern city of Najaf.
Al-Sadr's Mehdi militia is believed to be behind many of the sectarian revenge killings.
In addition to discussing the country's volatile security and political climate, the three men discussed a document meant to spur reconciliation between Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites that is expected to be unveiled Thursday by the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
The document "will be a call to every Iraqi stating the clear position of Islam on the prohibition of shedding a Muslim's blood," and it will urge Iraqi Muslims to adhere to Muslim principles, said OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.
10 U.S. troops die in Iraq
Insurgent attacks killed 10 U.S. service members in a single day in Iraq, the U.S. military said Wednesday. Sixty-seven U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq so far this month, making October the deadliest month for U.S. service members so far this year. The number of service members killed so far this year, stands at 602. (Watch what troops face with each step in the Triangle of Death -- 3:13 )
Asked if the deaths were causing President Bush to rethink his strategy, White House spokesman Tony Snow said, "No, the strategy is to win. The president understands not only the difficulty of it, but he grieves for the people who have served and served with valor."
The U.S. military said Tuesday's deaths included:
Since the start of the war, the U.S. military has lost 2,782 people in Iraq. Seven American civilian contractors to the military also have died in the conflict.
Sources: Anfal prosecutor's brother killed
The brother of the chief prosecutor in Saddam Hussein's Anfal trial was killed Monday in Baghdad, court officials told CNN Wednesday.
The Iraqi High Tribunal could not provide more details about the killing of Munqith al-Faroun's sibling. Al-Faroun was still in court this week for the proceedings against the former Iraqi leader and his six co-defendants. (Wednesday's testimony)
The killing follows that of the chief judge's brother-in-law late last month.
Three defense lawyers in Hussein's first trial, concerning the massacre in Dujail, have also been killed.
CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.
An elderly Shiite Iraqi woman peers from her tent at a camp for displaced people north of Baghdad earlier this month.
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