/ 1 June 2008

US records lowest monthly death toll as Iraq unrest dips

Nineteen United States soldiers were killed in Iraq in May, the lowest monthly death toll since the US-led invasion of 2003, the US military said on Sunday.

The month that saw the highest US losses was November 2004, when 137 American troops were killed, according to the independent icasualties.org website. The previous low was in February 2004 when 20 soldiers were killed.

Since the invasion, a total of 4 084 US troops have been killed in Iraq. The US military said last week that the overall level of violence across the country had hit a four-year low.

”I can confirm 19 casualties [deaths] for the month of May in Iraq as reported by OSD [Office of Secretary of Defence],” a US military spokesperson said. ”The efforts of the Iraqi security forces and coalition forces are bringing stability to Iraq.”

On Thursday, the US military announced the withdrawal of another 4 000 of the additional troops deployed to Iraq last year after reporting a sharp decline in violence.

It said the latest drawdown was to be completed by June. It is the fourth brigade to withdraw from Iraq out of five that deployed under the controversial surge in US troop numbers ordered in February 2007.

Washington has said it wants to complete the withdrawal of the 30 000 surge troops by July and have a 45-day evaluation period before considering overall troop levels.

Iraq’s defence, interior and health ministries said their figures for May showed that at least 563 Iraqis were killed during the month, compared with at least 1 073 dead in April and 1 082 in March.

The number of insurgents or militiamen said to have been killed by security forces also showed a marked drop, totalling 170 in May against 355 in April.

According to figures made available to Agence France-Presse by security officials, 504 civilians were killed last month along with 32 policemen and 27 soldiers.

The number of Iraqis wounded in May was less than half the April figure at 1 003 compared with 2 008.

Seven weeks of bitter street fighting in the Baghdad Shi’ite militia stronghold of Sadr City died down by May 14 when a truce between the Mehdi Army militia of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the government went into effect. — AFP