Iraqi casualties halved last month; U.S. death toll up

BAGHDAD — Iraqi casualties in May fell by more than half compared with the previous month and were at a record low for the years for which statistics are available, according to figures released Sunday.

The statistics suggested that insurgents have not been able to sustain the attacks they mounted in April.

The U.S. military toll, however, was at its highest level since September, with 24 deaths recorded. Sunday, the military reported the accidental deaths of two U.S. soldiers, one in a vehicle accident and one in a noncombat-related injury in Tikrit, in northern Iraq.

The U.S. count included the deaths of five U.S. soldiers who were gunned down at a combat-stress clinic on May 11. One of their comrades, Sgt. John M. Russell, has been charged in the shooting. Otherwise, U.S. casualties were in line with previous months.

According to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, 165 Iraqis died in violence in May, 134 of them civilians and 31 of them members of the Iraqi security forces. That's down from 355 deaths in April, 290 of them in bombings that mostly targeted civilians. The toll also was lower than the 187 deaths in January, the previous low for the year.

U.S. military officials have cited the fall in violence in May as evidence that insurgents have lost the ability to sustain prolonged bombing campaigns. Violence levels are sharply down from their peak in November 2006 when, according to the United Nations, 3,462 Iraqis died.

The self-described leader of an al-Qaida front group issued a new audiotape this weekend, deepening the mystery surrounding the identity of the insurgent leader whom the Iraqi government claims to have in custody and whose very existence the United States once questioned.

The man purporting to be Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq, issued the usual litany of militant rhetoric against the West in the 40-minute tape that was posted Saturday on militant Web sites.

The speaker also said the Iraqi government's claim that it had captured him was "a pure lie," adding the detainee who has confessed to being him was an impostor.

The Iraqi government announced on April 23 that they had arrested Baghdadi. Past Iraqi claims to have captured or killed Baghdadi turned out to be wrong.

Associated Press

Iraqi casualties halved last month; U.S. death toll up 05/31/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 31, 2009 8:25pm]

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