Iraq civilian, US military tolls at new low in Oct

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BAGHDAD, Oct 31 (Reuters) Civilian deaths from violence in Iraq fell again in October to their lowest level this year, government figures showed today, bolstering the US military's assertion that a troop surge is reducing bloodshed.

US military fatalities also showed a significant drop in October -- so far 36 have been reported for the month, the lowest since March 2006, and well below 65 deaths in September.

Figures from Iraq's health, interior and defence ministries recorded 758 civilians killed in violence in October, along with 117 policemen and 13 Iraqi soldiers.

In September, 884 civilian deaths were recorded, and 62 policemen and 16 Iraqi soldiers were killed.

The September and October tolls represent a sharp drop from monthly figures earlier in the year. The highest civilian toll this year was 1,971 in January, and the monthly toll stayed well above 1,000 until September's dramatic decline.

US generals say the figures show that the strategy of pouring 30,000 extra troops into Iraq this year to secure Baghdad and other troubled areas, and of moving US troops out of large bases into smaller combat outposts where they live and fight alongside Iraqis, is having a significant impact.

They say Iraqi security forces are also increasingly adept at tackling insurgent groups and rogue militias.

The Iraqi government figures showed 1,038 civilians were wounded in violence in October -- higher than the 884 wounded in September but still significantly below 2007's monthly average.

Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 US general in Iraq, said last week that insurgent attacks had been on a steady downward trend since June, with roadside bomb blasts in particular sharply down in the last four months.

In several areas of Iraq, including the western province of Anbar that was long dominated by radical insurgents, groups once hostile to the US military have turned against al Qaeda militants, angered by their indiscriminate killings of civilians and attempts to impose harsh Islamic laws.

The Iraqi data showed 330 insurgents killed in October and 1,427 captured, down from 366 killed and 1,514 captured in September.

US opponents of the continued military presence in Iraq say American troops are caught in the middle of a domestic sectarian conflict with no resolution in sight.

Bush has said the surge strategy needs to be given time to work, and has told Congress that he expects 20,000 to 30,000 troops could be withdrawn by July 2008 as security improves.

Reuters BJR VP0342

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