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Iraqi Civilian Casualties Rise, Reversing Six-Month Trend

The Iraqi government says the number of civilians who were killed rose by a third in February, reversing a six-month trend that came with security improvements. A U.S. military spokesman says violence is still down across the country, despite a series of recent attacks. Daniel Schearf reports from the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.

Figures released Saturday by Iraq's interior, defense, and health ministries show that at least 630 Iraqi civilians were killed in February, a third more than in January.

The rising death toll follows months of lower casualty figures after a surge in U.S. troops and cooperation from some Sunni and Shi'ite militias.

Several deadly suicide bombings helped push the monthly death toll back up. In early February, two mentally impaired women detonated themselves in Baghdad pet markets, killing nearly a hundred people.

Another bomber killed more than 60 Shi'ite pilgrims traveling to the southern city of Karbala for an annual religious commemoration.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have blamed al-Qaida in Iraq for many of the recent bombings.

Admiral Gregory Smith is a U.S. military spokesman. In an interview this week, he told VOA that the recent attacks do not necessarily indicate a spike in violence as a whole.

"Any given week you might see an up tick or down tick, but I think since about the late September/October timeframe, we've seen a dramatic drop-off and those numbers continue through today," he said.

The U.S. military says violent attacks have fallen by 60 percent since June, when the U.S. sent 30,000 more troops to Iraq in what was called a surge.

Despite the jump in the February death toll, civilian casualties are still lower than February 2007 when at least 1,600 Iraqis were killed.

U.S. casualty figures are also down. In February last year, 81 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq. This year 29 have been reported killed, down from 40 in January.

Also on Saturday, the U.S. military announced that coalition forces have detained the leader of a suspected suicide vest cell north of Baghdad. The military says the man was trying to recruit women, including his wife, to carry out suicide bombings.