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Iraqi Civilian Deaths Down In June, Continuing Trend

BAGHDAD -- The number of civilians killed in Iraq fell in June despite a few big bombings, keeping violence levels at around four-year lows, Iraqi government figures show.

The statistics come at a time when the U.S. military is close to completing a drawdown of more than 20,000 combat troops that were sent to Iraq in early 2007 to pull the country back from the brink of all-out sectarian civil war.

Numbers from the Health Ministry showed 448 civilians were killed in June, down from 505 in May. The May figure was down from 968 civilian deaths in April, a month when fighting spiralled between Shi'ite militias and security forces.

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq rose to 29 in June from 19 in May, according to the independent website, which tracks American casualty figures.

The May number was the lowest since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. In June last year, 101 U.S. troops were killed.

The 5-year-old war in Iraq has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Despite the improved security, U.S. generals have stressed the gains are both fragile and reversible. That was shown in March and April, when government offensives against Shi'ite militias sparked a surge in violence in the capital Baghdad and other cities.

In one of the deadliest attacks last month, a truck bomb killed 63 people in Baghdad on June 17. Those types of attacks, a regular occurrence in 2006 and in the first half of 2007, are now relatively rare.

U.S. officials credit the turnaround in security to President George W. Bush's decision to send extra troops to Iraq, a rebellion by Sunni tribal leaders against Al-Qaeda, and a cease-fire by anti-American Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.