BAGHDAD — The monthly U.S. toll in Iraq fell to its lowest point since the war began, with 11 American deaths as July drew to a close Thursday after the departure of the last surge brigade.
Iraqis also are dying at dramatically lower numbers with the war in its sixth year. July saw the lowest civilian toll since December 2005, though a series of suicide bombings this week and rising ethnic tensions in northern Iraq reflect the fragility of the security successes.
The drastic decline in violence over the past year has led to increasing optimism among American commanders, who have been wary of declaring success after past lulls proved short-lived. It also has become a key issue in the U.S. presidential campaign.
"The progress is still reversible," President Bush said Thursday in Washington. But he said a new "degree of durability in gains" should permit him to announce further U.S. troop reductions later this year.
The last of five combat brigades sent as part of the so-called surge returned home in July, leaving about 145,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. That is still higher than the roughly 130,000-135,000 who were there before the troop increase.
But the American soldiers appear to be taking on more of a peacekeeping role after many Sunni and Shiite extremists agreed to stop fighting.
The U.S. military has pointed to a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq and a truce by anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as playing a large part in the drop in violence, along with the troop buildup and improvements in training Iraqi security forces.
Baghdad — the site of some of the worst sectarian violence that pushed the country to the brink of civil war — has been turned into a maze of concrete walls and checkpoints that make it difficult for militants to function.
The July 2008 figure could rise, as the military sometimes announces deaths days after they occur.