Sunday, February 01, 2009

Iraq death toll 'lowest since invasion'

BAGHDAD (AFP) — A total of 191 Iraqis were killed in violence across the country last month, the lowest toll since the US-led invasion of 2003, authorities said on Sunday. The figures, released after an election held in 14 of the country's 18 provinces passed off 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 last month'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," defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammad al-Askari told AFP. "This toll is the lowest since 2003," he said. The latest casualty figures -- compiled by the defence, interior and health ministries -- also showed that 300 civilians, 71 soldiers and 35 police were wounded in January. Al-Askari praised police and the army for their conduct in safeguarding the poll, which came two days after gunmen murdered three election candidates and two election campaign workers. Iraqi and American 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," Askari said. Iraq has in the past year 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 remain 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 US troops fell to 314 last year, down from 904 in 2007 and reaching the lowest level since the 2003 invasion, according to independent website www.icasualties.org. The number of US troop deaths in January was 15. Iraq's stability has been at the forefront of new US President Barack Obama's early moves on foreign policy, as he is keen to redeploy American soldiers to Afghanistan which he sees as the front line against Al-Qaeda. The Iraqi ministries last month said that US and Iraqi security forces also killed 2,028 insurgents in 2008 and arrested 13,000 of them.

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