- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

On Christmas Day, Sgt. Bryan J. Tutten became one of 760 U.S. servicemen to die by enemy fire since January in Operation Iraqi Freedom — the highest yearly casualty rate since the war began in 2003, Department of Defense statistics show.

But the total belies recent stability in Iraq, as American military fatalities and injuries have decreased significantly since U.S. armed forces mounted a troop surge about six months ago.

U.S. commanders noted a 60 percent decrease in violence in all areas, including civilian deaths, which they attributed to the dedication of troops, cooperation with local citizen groups and stronger Iraqi security forces.

It isn’t just one item, Col. Steven Boylan, spokesman for Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq, told The Washington Times. It is a combination of things that have a cumulative effect. … The increase of forces that allowed us to go after al Qaeda and other extremists and removing their safe havens to operate out of, the increase in the Iraqi security forces and their improvements, the concerned local citizen groups and the Awakening movement all contributed to the downward trends in all areas.

The Awakening councils, which were formed in June, are made up of Iraqi tribal leaders and citizens across the country with the aim at driving out extremist groups, like al Qaeda, that are responsible for numerous attacks on troops and civilians.

Though the improvements in Iraq are bittersweet for families who have lost loved ones, the sacrifices by troops, like that of Sgt. Tutten, 33, of St. Augustine, Fla., who died from wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device, are not forgotten.

Sgt. Tutten had many qualities not found just anywhere, said Christopher Lachenmayer, a soldier who served with him in Iraq. His loyalty to the Army, his platoon and his soldiers made him stand out from his peers. His discipline and motivation were unwavering, and his passion for his family and friends made him a great husband, father and friend.

According to the Department of Defense, the total number of service members killed by enemy fire in Iraq as of yesterday was 3,170. The number does not include accidental deaths, which would bring the total deaths of U.S. military personnel to roughly 3,900.

The number of injuries is much greater. In 2007, more than 5,900 U.S. service members were injured in combat. As of Dec. 8, the number injured in Iraq since March 2003 totaled 28,661.

Civilian deaths have taken a steep decline with the number of attacks on the civilian population dropping more than 70 percent since January, according to statistics provided by the Department of Defense.

Pentagon officials, however, are cautious not to shout victory when referring to the recent successes in Iraq. The continued threat of extremism from al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, including a fragile political system and sectarian violence, still pose serious problems in the country.

Gen. Petraeus is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. He is a realist where it comes to all of these issues, Col. Boylan said.

We have seen good progress, but it is not irreversible, he added. [Al Qaeda and other extremists] we are still fighting are still very capable of inflicting significant casualties and damage.

On Saturday, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden released a tape stating that those who helped the U.S. in Iraq have betrayed the nation and brought shame and scandal, that will be followed by damnation forever unless they repent.

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