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U.S. death toll in Iraq declines

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BAGHDAD | A total of 191 Iraqis were killed in violence across the country last month, the lowest toll since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, authorities said.

The figures, released after an election held in 14 of the country's 18 provinces passed without major violence on Saturday, showed that 140 civilians, 27 soldiers and 24 policemen lost their lives in January.

The death toll was 42 percent down on December's total of 316, which had itself been the lowest figure for almost three years.

"I consider the toll is due to the efforts of the Iraqi security forces and the support of the Iraqi people, which helped to keep down the terror," Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammad al-Askari said.

"This toll is the lowest since 2003," he said.

The latest casualty figures -- compiled by the defense, interior and health ministries -- also showed that 300 civilians, 71 soldiers and 35 police were wounded in January.

Gen. al-Askari praised police and the army for their conduct in safeguarding the poll, which came two days after gunmen fatally wounded three election candidates and two election campaign workers. Iraqi and U.S. military commanders had also warned of al Qaeda attacks around election day.

"The best evidence of the ability of the Iraqi security forces is what was achieved yesterday," Gen. al-Askari said.

Iraq in the past year has seen a stark improvement in its security situation, but tens of thousands of police and soldiers were on duty to guard the country's first ballot since 2005.

Although attacks remain common in Baghdad and provinces such as Diyala and Nineveh, where al Qaeda-linked insurgents are still active, the casualty report differs markedly from recent years.

In January 2007 there were 1,992 civilians, 40 soldiers and 55 police killed.

Mirroring the fall in Iraqi deaths, combat deaths among U.S. troops fell to 314 last year, down from 904 in 2007 and reaching the lowest level since the 2003 invasion, according to independent Web site www.icasualties.org.

The U.S. Army on Sunday announced the death of a soldier in a "noncombat related" injury in Kirkuk, bringing January troop deaths to 16.

Iraq's stability has been at the forefront of President Obama's early moves on foreign policy. The Obama administration plans to redeploy U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan, which is seen as the front line against al Qaeda.

The Iraqi ministries last month said that U.S. and Iraqi security forces killed 2,028 insurgents in 2008 and arrested 13,000 of them.

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