Iraq says civilian deaths dropped in June

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Monthly civilian casualties in Iraq dipped in June to the lowest level this year, according to the Iraqi government, but it was not immediately clear how accurate the statistics were or whether they were related to the increased presence of U.S. troops.

The figures released by the Iraqi ministries of health, defense and the interior showed 1,227 Iraqi civilians killed in June, compared with 1,949 in May and 1,646 in February, when the first of 28,500 additional U.S. troops arrived here.

More Iraqi security force members were killed in June - 221 compared with 174 in May. But the number of militants killed also increased, according to the government, from 297 in May to 416 in June.

In the past three months, 331 U.S. troops have died, the deadliest quarter for U.S. forces in Iraq since the invasion.

Experts caution that Iraq's civilian death tolls are inexact and likely underestimate the toll because of the number of unreported deaths in the hinterlands and the lengthy time before mass graves are discovered, such as one found over the weekend outside Fallujah that officials said contained between 35 and 40 bodies.

June's numbers also would be skewed by the four-day curfew imposed on Baghdad in the aftermath of the June 13 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, which banned all vehicular traffic and kept most people off the streets.

U.S. military officials, meanwhile, said it was too soon to tell whether a decline in civilian casualties was the result of a U.S. military "surge" and a wave of offensives that began two weeks ago targeting insurgent havens around Baghdad.

"We are not yet sure whether our operations are the cause of the decline. We are looking at that very carefully," said Lt. Col Christopher Garver, a military spokesman in Baghdad.

Garver said that the U.S. military's civilian casualty tallies support the Iraqi government's figures and that U.S. officials will track civilian casualties throughout the summer.

"The number of civilians that have been killed by vehicle-borne bombs and improvised explosive devices on the road is still way too high," Garver said, "and we are working to eliminate those car-bomb factories, eliminate those suicide bombers that are causing such horrific damage throughout the country.

Explosions yesterday at police checkpoints in Iraq's western al-Anbar province reportedly resulted in the deaths of seven Iraqi police, although the U.S. military disputed the statistic. Scattered violence across Iraq led to at least 15 additional deaths.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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