Iraqi civilian death toll declines 36 percent

Monday, July 2, 2007

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi civilian deaths dropped to their lowest level since the start of the Baghdad security operation, government figures showed Sunday, suggesting signs of progress in tamping down violence in the capital.

But American casualties are running high as U.S. forces step up pressure on Sunni and Shiite extremists in and around Baghdad.

At least 1,227 Iraqi civilians were killed in June along with 190 policemen and 31 soldiers, an officer at the Iraqi Interior Ministry's operations room said. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the figures.

That represented a 36 percent drop from the ministry's May figures -- 1,949 civilian deaths along with 127 policemen and 47 soldiers.

June's figures were the lowest monthly tally this year. In January, President Bush ordered nearly 30,000 soldiers, Marines and airmen to Iraq in a major push to stabilize the capital so that Iraq's leaders can hammer out power-sharing agreements for a lasting peace.

The Baghdad security operation was launched in mid-February, although the last of the American reinforcements arrived in Iraq only last month.

A U.S. military spokesman said the decrease was encouraging but that it was too early to attribute it to the crackdown. "The synchronized effort only began two weeks ago. It's too early to declare a trend," said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver.

But Iraqi officials hailed the decline as a sign that the security crackdown was working.

"This is one of the results of the implementation of the security plan and the deployment of extra Iraqi and U.S. forces," Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said. "Such figures show that the security operations are going in the right direction and they are working as planned."

While Iraqi civilian casualties are down, U.S. military losses are still running high. June ended the deadliest quarter for U.S. troops in Iraq since the war began in March 2003 -- 330 deaths. That surpasses the 316 soldiers killed during November 2004 to January 2005.

U.S. officials say American losses are rising because the U.S. military is taking the fight to the extremists, seeking to push Sunni and Shiite militants from strongholds in and around the capital where they have operated for years.

On June 15, U.S. troops launched two large offensives, one in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, the other in regions south of the capital. The goal is to deny insurgents sanctuaries from where they can smuggle car bombs and other deadly explosives into the capital.

Commanders in Diyala have claimed successes in dislodging insurgents, but they acknowledge three-quarters of the senior militant leaders escaped.

An Islamist Web site posted a video late Sunday of what it said was a field commander of the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq in Diyala.

The masked man, sitting on the floor of a room with a Kalashnikov rifle by his side, said Diyala had become "a volcano under the feet of the crusaders," meaning the Americans, and that "martyr brigades" of suicide attackers were awaiting orders to strike.

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