The rise of the Islamic State militant group, which took over large swaths of Syria and Iraq in 2014, has contributed to an alarming explosion in violence in the region, governments and activists have announced.

More than 76,000 people were killed in Syria’s brutal civil conflict in 2014, making it the bloodiest year since the country’s war erupted almost four years ago, a monitoring group said Thursday.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recorded 76,021 deaths in Syria last year.

The group said it had documented the deaths of nearly 18,000 civilians in 2014, among them 3,501 children.

The multi-front conflict pitting forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad against several militias, including the Islamic State jihadist group, shows no signs of abating despite widespread destruction and a spiraling death toll.

Assad made a rare public appearance on a front line on New Year’s Eve to bolster the morale of soldiers and pro-government fighters, media reported on Thursday.

The majority of the deaths were combatants, including nearly 17,000 jihadists, 15,747 rebel forces and 22,627 regime troops and militiamen, according to the Observatory.

Iraq violence ‘worst in seven years’

Meanwhile, violence in Iraq killed more than 15,000 civilians and security personnel in 2014, government figures showed Thursday, making it one of the deadliest years since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Figures compiled by the health, interior and defence ministries put the death toll at 15,538, compared with 17,956 killed in 2007 during the height of Sunni-Shiite sectarian killings.

The toll for 2014 was also more than double the 6,522 people killed in 2013.

“Yet again, the Iraqi ordinary citizen continues to suffer from violence and terrorism. 2014 has seen the highest number of causalities since the violence in 2006-2007. This is a very sad state of affairs,” UN Iraq envoy Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement.

The UN put the number of civilians killed in Iraq during 2014 at 12,282.

Iraq Body Count, a Britain-based NGO that tracks violence in Iraq, gave an even higher toll, saying that 17,073 civilians were killed, which would make it the third deadliest year since 2003.

The year got off to a bloody start, with the government losing control of parts of Anbar provincial capital Ramadi and all of Fallujah – just a short drive from Baghdad – to anti-government fighters.

The violence was sparked by the demolition of the country’s main Sunni Arab anti-government protest camp near Ramadi in late 2013.

It spread to Fallujah, and security forces later withdrew from areas of both cities, leaving them open for capture.

That was a harbinger of events in June, when the Islamic State group spearheaded a major militant offensive that swept security forces aside.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)