Deaths among American forces and Iraqi civilians fell dramatically last month to their lowest levels in more than a year, according to figures compiled by the U.S. military, the Iraqi government and The Associated Press.
The decline signaled a U.S. success in bringing down violence in Baghdad and surrounding regions since Washington completed its infusion of 30,000 more troops on June 15.
A total of 64 American forces died in September -- the lowest monthly toll since July 2006.
The decline in Iraqi civilian deaths was even more dramatic, falling from 1,975 in August to at least 988 last month, a decline of 50 percent, according to an AP tally. The civilian death toll has not been so low since June 2006, when 847 Iraqis died.
The AP count includes civilians, government officials and police and security forces, and is considered a minimum based on AP reporting. The actual number is likely higher, as many killings go unreported.
In a joint statement, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and U.S. Commander Gen. David Petraeus commended Iraqi's security forces and its citizens for the decrease in violence.
"We are confident that you and your fellow citizens will continue to display determination, that Iraqi Security Forces will remain vigilant and that additional Iraqis will join our combined effort," said the statement released Monday.
The good news was tempered by violence: On Monday, a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives just outside the gates of Mosul University, killing an agriculture professor, said police spokesman Abdul Karim al-Jbouri said.
Less than an hour later, police found a second bomb in an empty car nearby and safely detonated it.
In other developments: Private security contractor Blackwater USA has had to fire 122 people over the past three years for problems ranging from misusing weapons, alcohol and drug violations, inappropriate conduct, and violent behavior, according to a report released Monday by a congressional committee. That total is roughly one-seventh of the work force that Blackwater has in Iraq, a ratio that raises questions about the quality of the people working for the company. The U.S. Embassy on Sunday criticized a Senate resolution adopted last week that could lead to a division of Iraq into sectarian or ethnic territories, agreeing with a swath of Iraqi leaders in saying the proposal "would produce extraordinary suffering and bloodshed." The resolution proposed reshaping Iraq according to three sectarian or ethnic territories and a limited central government, with the bulk of power going to the country's Shiite, Sunni or Kurdish regions. In a highly unusual statement, the U.S. Embassy said the policy in the resolution would seriously hamper Iraq's future stability: "Our goal in Iraq remains the same: a united, democratic, federal Iraq that can govern, defend, and sustain itself." The U.S. military announced the deaths Monday of two American soldiers killed over the weekend. One died Saturday in a roadside bombing and gunfire attack in eastern Baghdad. Another Multi-National Division soldier was killed Sunday in an attack by small-arms fire during combat operations in eastern Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi forces killed more than 60 insurgent and militia fighters in intense battles over the weekend, with most of the casualties believed to have been al Qaeda fighters, officials said. "Coalition forces have dealt significant blows to al Qaeda Iraq in recent months, including the recent killing of the Tunisian head of the foreign fighter network in Iraq and the blows struck in the past 24 hours," military spokesman Col. Steven Boylan told The Associated Press. Iraq's Defense Ministry said in an e-mail Sunday afternoon that Iraqi soldiers had killed 44 "terrorists" over the past 24 hours. The operations were centered in Salahuddin and Diyala provinces and around the city of Kirkuk, where the ministry said its soldiers had killed 40 and arrested eight. It said 52 fighters were arrested altogether. The ministry did not further identify those killed, but use of the word "terrorists" normally indicates al Qaeda. A judge delayed court proceedings Sunday for a second U.S. Army sniper accused in the deaths of two unarmed Iraqi civilians a day after a military panel sentenced 22-year-old specialist Jorge G. Sandoval to five months in prison for his role in the killings. In dramatic testimony during the four-day court-martial, his colleague, Sgt. Evan Vela, testified he had pulled the trigger and killed one of the men Sandoval was accused of murdering. A military judge has postponed a pretrial hearing for Vela for at least a month. Three more people have died of cholera in Iraq, bringing the number of deaths to 14 across the country, the World Health Organization said. Iraq now has 2,758 confirmed cholera cases in what has been a steadily spreading outbreak, and more than 30,000 registered cases of acute watery diarrhea, according to a report Sunday on the Web site for WHO's office in Iraq.
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