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BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- The number of Iraqi civilians killed fell sharply in May to its lowest since the 2003 invasion, according to figures from Iraq's Health Ministry released on May 31.

The death toll of 134 was slightly under January's record low. It was also less than half the 290 civilians killed in April, when a spate of bombings caused carnage in Baghdad and northern Iraq.

Major-General David Perkins, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, said even April's spike in deaths masked a significant drop in the number of attacks militants were carrying out.

"The number of attacks are really the best indicator of the capability of Al-Qaeda," he said. "In May we have had 13 high profile attacks, the casualty producing attacks. Just a month ago, we had 28, so we are...less than half of what we had."

In May 2008, 505 Iraqi civilians died in violence in Iraq.

The figures are likely to give solace to the Iraqi security forces, as they prepare to take full control of Iraq's cities from the U.S. military by the end of June. Many Iraqis fear militants will try to stage a comeback.

"The operations conducted by the terrorist elements are limited...and the security forces can deal with them," Iraq's Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told Reuters in an interview this week.

The number of U.S. troops killed in combat increased slightly to 12, from 10 in April, according to the www.icasualties.org website, which collates official data.

At least 4,304 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion, official figures show. Close to 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in Iraq in violence during that time, according to www.iraqbodycount.org.
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