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Civilian death toll drops to lowest of this year

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2007

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi civilian deaths dropped to their lowest level since the start of the Baghdad security operation, government figures showed yesterday, 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 Shi"ite 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 the 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 troops 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 began in mid-February, although the last of the American reinforcements arrived in Iraq only last month.

The accuracy of civilian death figures in Iraq has been in doubt since the start of the conflict and may reflect only a portion of the casualties nationwide.

Still, the figures suggest a downward trend, which may be a result of U.S. military pressure on insurgents in Baghdad and the surrounding areas, as well as a shift in focus by extremists toward American targets.

The commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., told reporters on Friday that American and Iraqi security forces now control 48 percent to 49 percent of the 474 neighborhoods in Baghdad, up from 19 percent in April.

At least 50 Iraqis were killed or found dead yesterday in politically motivated violence, according to police reports compiled by the Associated Press. That figure was well below the daily death tolls recorded last winter, which regularly topped 100.

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.