Iraq toll still high a year after U.S. combat halt
By Jim Loney
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - At least 2,600 civilians, police and soldiers, along with 35 U.S. military personnel, have been killed in violence in Iraq since Washington formally ended combat operations a year ago, U.S. and Iraqi statistics show.
As U.S. troops prepare to leave Iraq by the end of the year, the figures show a Sunni insurgency and attacks by Shi'ite militias are taking a serious toll despite violence falling sharply since a peak after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
President Barack Obama declared an end to combat in Iraq on August 31, 2010 and said "extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife. But ultimately these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals."
Iraqi Health Ministry statistics indicate 1,604 civilians were killed in violence in the last year.
The toll for August reached 155. Attacks last month included an August 28 suicide bombing at an important Sunni mosque that killed 32 and a series of coordinated assaults on August 15 when at least 60 people died.
The 12-month period saw 588 Iraqi police and 418 soldiers killed, including 45 police and 39 soldiers in August alone, according to figures from the interior and defence ministries.
Pentagon statistics show 56 U.S. military deaths since the start of Operation New Dawn on September 1, 35 in hostile incidents. Since the start of the war, more than 4,400 U.S. personnel have been killed in Iraq.
There were no U.S. military casualties in August.
"Iraq remains a very dangerous place," said Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, the U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.
Washington has about 43,000 troops in Iraq, down from a peak of around 170,000. The United States maintains 43 bases, down from 92 last August 31 and a high of 505.
U.S. forces are scheduled to leave by December 31 under a bilateral security agreement. Iraqi politicians are discussing the possibility of having some U.S. forces stay on as trainers.
U.S. and Iraqi military officials say they have seriously damaged al Qaeda's capabilities by killing or arresting scores of leaders and operatives. But U.S. statistics show there are an average of 14 bombings and other attacks every day.
"Broad trend-wise, I do think Iraq is making progress in the security side," Buchanan said. "Broad trend-wise we've seen an overall reduction in the number of attacks, a reduction in the lethality of the attacks, how many casualties are they causing."
According to Iraq Body Count, between 102,344 and 111,861 people have been killed in the Iraq War. Nearly 4,800 members of the U.S.-led coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein have died, according to icasualties.org.
(editing by Rosalind Russell and Elizabeth Piper)
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