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Iraqi Officials say Civilian Deaths Down a Third in June

Newly released Iraqi government figures show civilian deaths nationwide were down more than a third in June. The decrease follows a surge of U.S. troops in and around Baghdad. From the Iraqi capital, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

The figures, compiled by the interior, health, and defense ministries show 1,241 civilians died in June, compared with 1,951 during May.

The 36 percent decrease is significant in a country where at one point last year sectarian death squads were killing, on average, 100 people each day.

U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver says the coalition also keeps track of civilian deaths.

"We have seen a downward trend just as the Iraqi Ministry of Interior put out today. We have seen this trend, but as the surge of operations, Operation Phantom Thunder, just started two weeks ago, we are not yet sure whether our operations are the cause of the decline. We are looking at that very carefully," said Garver.

Phantom Thunder is the name given to all anti-insurgent operations going on across Iraq.

In February, an additional 28,000 U.S. troops began arriving in the Iraqi capital and surrounding areas, to help quell sectarian violence. June's civilian casualties are the lowest since the surge began.

But Colonel Garver acknowledges that car and road bombs still present a challenge.

"The number of civilians that have been killed by vehicle-borne bombs and improvised explosive devices on the road is still way too high and we are working to eliminate those car bomb factories, eliminate those suicide bombers that are causing such horrific damage throughout the country," he said. "That is the focus of our operations. But we are glad to see the numbers go down, and are cautiously optimistic our operations are heading in the right direction."

The last of the additional U.S. troops arrived June first, raising U.S. troop totals in Iraq to nearly 160,000. Since then, several military operations have been launched in Baghdad, Anbar, and Diyala provinces to root out al-Qaida terrorists, illegal militias and other fighters blamed for the violence.