Civilian death toll plunges in Iraq

BAGHDAD -- The number of violent civilian deaths in Iraq dropped precipitously in September compared with the previous month, an Iraqi government official and an independent monitoring group said Monday.

BAGHDAD -- The number of violent civilian deaths in Iraq dropped precipitously in September compared with the previous month, an Iraqi government official and an independent monitoring group said Monday.

The general downward trend in violence also was apparent in the decline, to 63, in the number of U.S. service members killed last month, from 84 in August, the U.S. military reported Monday. That was the lowest monthly total in more than a year.

U.S. military officials here quickly asserted that the decline in civilian and military deaths was a direct result of the rapid buildup of U.S. forces in Iraq this year.

In September, 1,654 civilians were killed in Iraq, a29 percent decline from the 2,318 civilians killed in August, according to an Interior Ministry official here. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity; American and Iraqi government officials are reluctant to provide figures for civilian deaths.

The heartening numbers emerged just three weeks after U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and commander Gen. David Petraeus argued before a divided Congress that more time was needed for Iraq to begin seeing results from President Bush's dispatch of an additional 30,000 troops to pacify Baghdad and surrounding regions.


On Monday, they issued an unusual joint statement to the Iraqi people that credited them for the decline in violence.

"We must maintain the momentum that together we have achieved. We are confident that you and your fellow citizens will continue to display determination, that Iraqi security forces will remain vigilant and that additional Iraqis will join our combined effort," they said.

The Iraqi official's September civilian death count was much higher, and the percentage decline much smaller, than those seen in reports provided by other groups that regularly monitor civilian deaths in Iraq. For example, Iraq Body Count, a nongovernmental group based in Britain, said the number of civilian deaths in September was 1,280, compared with 2,575 in August, a reduction of nearly half.

Reuters, citing information gathered from the Iraqi Health, Interior and Defense Ministries, also reported a50 percent decline, but gave different figures, saying 884 civilians were killed in September -- the lowest monthly total this year, according to their report -- compared with 1,773 in August.

Iraq Body Count had reported that violence against civilians in Iraq reached new highs in the last six months of 2006, and that the first six months of 2007 was the most deadly first half-year for civilians of any year since the war began.

The recent drop in violence against noncombatants in Iraq occurred during a time when al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia had promised to inflict more. Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that U.S. intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners. More than two weeks ago, at the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, the group said it would escalate its attacks, particularly against Sunni Arab tribal leaders who were cooperating with U.S. military and Iraqi security forces.

A U.S. military spokesman said Sunday that attacks led by al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia in Anbar province, Iraq's largely Sunni western region, were down 38 percent compared with the same period last year.

While the number of U.S. troops killed in September was the lowest monthly total this year, the fatality total through the first nine months of the year, 801, is more than 200 higher than what had been recorded through a similar period in any year since the war began.


"The casualty figures are still too high," the spokesman, Rear Adm. Mark Fox, said during a news conference in the fortified Green Zone. But he added, "The trend is in the right direction."

Meanwhile, as October arrived, a measure of violence in Iraq continued, against U.S. forces and civilians.

A car bomb exploded near a university in Mosul, in northern Iraq, killing a professor of agriculture and five other people, a police spokesman said.

Also, 11 bodies were found in Baghdad, the Interior Ministry official said. In the southern city of Basra, an assassination attempt against the city's chief of police failed, the police reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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