- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007

BAGHDAD (AP) — The number of American troops and Iraqi civilians killed in the war fell last month to levels not seen in more than a year. The U.S. military said the lower count was at least partly a result of new strategies and 30,000 additional U.S. forces deployed this year.

Although it is difficult to draw conclusions from a single month’s tally, the figures suggest U.S.-led forces are making headway against extremist factions and disrupting their ability to strike back.

The U.S. military death toll for September was 64, the lowest since July 2006, according to figures compiled by the Associated Press from death announcements by the American command and Pentagon.

More dramatic, however, was the decline in Iraqi civilian, police and military deaths. The figure was 988 in September — 50 percent lower than the previous month and the lowest tally since June 2006, when 847 Iraqis died.

The Iraqi death count is considered a minimum based on AP reporting. The actual number is likely higher, as many killings go unreported.

The heartening numbers emerged just three weeks after U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and commanding Gen. David H. 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.

Yesterday, 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.

Their message opened with greetings to the Iraqi people during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims focus on their spiritual lives and fast from dawn to dusk.

“Please know that we remain absolutely committed to this effort. … Much work lies ahead of us. Despite the challenges, we can, together, achieve success,” the two men wrote.

Of particular note, the message referred to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr by his honorific, Sayyid Muqtada. Sayyid is a title designating a religious figure as a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad.

“We also sincerely hope that the cease-fire declared by the Sayyid Muqtada will continue to be observed and be further extended to all members of Jaish al-Mahdi,” Mr. Crocker and Gen. Petraeus wrote. Jaish al-Mahdi is the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army, Sheik al-Sadr’s militia.

After a violent confrontation between the Mahdi Army and guards at a religious shrine in the holy city of Karbala in August, Sheik al-Sadr said he was standing down his fighters for six months to reorganize.

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