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U.S. Death Toll In Iraq Hits Post-Invasion Low


U.S. Brigadier General David Perkins

U.S. Brigadier General David Perkins

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- The number of U.S. troops killed in combat in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level since they invaded in 2003, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq has said.

In the first two months of this year, 19 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq, down from 148 in the same period two years ago, Major General David Perkins told a joint news conference with Baghdad security spokesman Major-General Qassim Moussawi.

Moussawi said the number of militant attacks documented last week in Baghdad was at a record low.

"U.S. combat deaths [in Iraq] are at the lowest level since the war began six years ago today, a decrease of over 90 percent," Perkins said.

Reuters data showed that the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq from the invasion in 2003 to March 17 totaled 4,259.

In the same period, between 91,121 and 99,500 Iraqi civilians were killed, according to data from www.iraqbodycount.net, a website run by academics and peace activists.

The U.S. toll includes deaths in Iraq and the surrounding region where troops are stationed.

For the first time, Baghdad's central morgue last week recorded no unidentified bodies dumped on the city streets, Moussawi said. The number of bodies ranged from 50 to 180 a day at the height of the sectarian violence in 2006.

He announced plans to re-open a major route through Baghdad that passes through the heavily fortified Green Zone in the city center, where traffic is currently strictly controlled.

The district is seen as a symbol of the U.S. occupation and the heart of its military and diplomatic operations in Iraq, as well as the site of several Iraqi ministries. The route is due to be opened within two months, Moussawi said.

"2009 is the year to reopen all the streets in Baghdad," he said.

Despite the upbeat assessment, bombings, kidnappings, and shootings remain common in Baghdad, and a Sunni-led insurgency is still raging in the northern city of Mosul and northeastern Diyala Province.

On March 23, a bomb at a bus terminal in west Baghdad's Abu Ghraib district killed nine people and wounded 23, Iraqi police said. Less than two weeks earlier, a suicide bomber killed 28 people and wounded 28 in the same area.

Souring the security outlook, at least 40 people released from prison under an amnesty law meant to foster reconciliation between Iraq's majority Shi'ites and minority Sunnis were re-arrested last week, Moussawi said.

Many thousands of mostly Sunni prisoners are being held in U.S. and Iraqi jails.
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