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US Troop Deaths in Iraq Decline to Wartime Low

Officials say the number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq declined in May to the lowest monthly total since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

The U.S. military said Sunday that 19 American service members were killed in Iraq last month, the lowest number since February 2004, when 20 deaths were recorded. One U.S. soldier was killed Sunday in a Baghdad bomb attack - the first death so far in June.

Iraqi authorities say violent deaths of Iraqi civilians and security forces also fell sharply in May, to about 550, compared to more than one thousand in April.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on a visit to Baghdad Sunday that he believes Iraq's security situation is improving. Kouchner also said the French government will see if French industries can help Iraq with development projects.

Kouchner later traveled to the northern Iraqi city of Irbil to inaugurate a French diplomatic office.

Also Sunday, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told Reuters news agency that Iraqi oil exports have risen to a five-year high.

Shahristani said Iraqi oil exports in May rose above two million barrels a day for the first time since the 2003 invasion. He attributed the increase to improved security along Iraqi pipelines from the northern city of Kirkuk to Turkey.

Shahristani also said oil production has increased in Iraq's southern and northern oil fields.

Australia ended combat operations in Iraq Sunday, pulling its 500 soldiers from the south of the country. The withdrawal fulfills an election promise by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to bring the soldiers home this year.

A close U.S. ally, Australia was one of the first countries to commit troops to the Iraq war. U.S. forces are due to replace the Australian troops.

In other developments Sunday, Iraqi police say a car bomb exploded in central Baghdad near the Iranian embassy, killing at least two people and wounding five.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.