Iraqi death toll down in July

BAGHDAD: Violent deaths in Iraq dropped by a third in July, the first month Iraqi police and troops had been in charge of security in urban areas since the 2003 US-led invasion, official figures showed Saturday.

A total of 275 Iraqis lost their lives last month, according to statistics compiled by the interior, defence and health ministries, compared to 437 deaths in June.

Some 223 civilians, 40 police and 12 soldiers died in July, along with 975 civilians, 93 police and 35 soldiers wounded, according to the figures.

Overall, 400 insurgents and militiamen were arrested by Iraq's security forces, while 41 were killed, the figures showed.

In a further sign that levels of violence have ebbed across the country, the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq in July dropped to seven, the lowest monthly toll since the invasion, according to an AFP tally based on independent website

The previous lowest monthly toll of US casualties was nine in March this year.

US troops pulled out of towns and cities to Iraq on June 30 as part of a landmark deal between Baghdad and Washington that calls for all American forces to leave the country by the end of 2011.

Violence increased in the run-up to the pull-out, leading in June to the highest Iraqi death toll in 11 months.

The figure in May was 155, the lowest of any month since the 2003 invasion.

Iraq's 500,000 police and 250,000 soldiers are now in charge in cities, towns and villages, while most of the 128,000 US troops remaining in the country are based outside towns and cities.

In two key tests of their ability to handle their newfound responsibilities, Iraqi security forces last month successfully secured Baghdad's first international football match since the invasion as well as a major Shiite pilgrimage in the capital.

Baghdad's 50,000-seat Al-Shaab stadium filled to over-capacity for the July 14 friendly against Palestine, an event notable not only for the attendance but also because it was held in the evening.

Just months earlier, the security situation in the capital meant that travel after dark was extremely dangerous.

Later July, hundreds of thousands of worshippers thronged a shrine in northern Baghdad to commemorate a Shiite saint in a three-day event that passed without major incident.

Despite the decrease in levels of unrest, Iraq is still plagued by violence and July saw some devastating attacks, including a double suicide bombing in the northern town of Tal Afar on July 9 which killed 35 people and wounded 61 others.

On Friday, 29 people were killed and 136 wounded in a wave of apparently co-ordinated bombings targeting Shiite Muslim worshippers at mosques across Baghdad.

A senior US commander warned on Thursday that security forces would have to be watchful of violence targeting parties and politicians in the run-up to general elections next January.

"Leading up to the elections, we're also going to see some politically motivated violence," Colonel Tobin Green, commander of the US army's 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, told reporters in Baghdad.