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Diplaced Iraqi Families Returning To Diyala

Iraqi soldiers searching for insurgents near Ba'qubah
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- More than 1,000 families who fled violence in Iraq's Diyala Governorate have returned home since July, signaling a military crackdown on militants there is bearing fruit, U.S. and Iraqi officials have said.

Iraq launched a major offensive on Al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups in the volatile river province at the end of July. Before that, U.S. and Iraqi troops had engaged in a series of operations to rout militants from hideouts in Diyala.

The ethnically and religiously mixed area has stayed stubbornly violent, with regular suicide bombings and attacks on security forces and recruits, even as attacks fall across Iraq.

But Iraqi officials say order is slowly being established.

In a statement, the U.S. military said more than 1,000 displaced families had returned to their homes in Diyala since July.

"The return of displaced persons is a visible sign of progress in Diyala province...and clearly indicates improvements in the security situation," Major Jon Pendell, a spokesman for the U.S. military in northern Iraq, said.

Saad Challub, an official from the Diyala provincial government's security committee, confirmed the returns, saying he had counted at least 1,125 families returning to the towns of Khalis, Al-Muqdadiyah, Kanaan, and the provincial capital Ba'qubah.

He said this had started in early July, before the crackdown's official launch.

Despite a sharp drop in violence over the past year, some 2.8 million people are displaced within Iraq, statistics from the International Organization of Migration show.