Iraq: Civilian deaths on rise, U.S. says Sadr order to boost fight against al Qaeda
Civilian deaths increased slightly in August, making it the second deadliest month for Iraqis since the U.S. troop buildup started, according to figures compiled Saturday by The Associated Press. U.S. deaths remained well below figures from last winter when the U.S started dispatching 30,000 additional troops to Iraq.
At least 1,809 civilians died in the month, compared to 1,760 in July, based on figures compiled by the AP from official Iraqi reports. That brings to 27,564 the number of Iraqi civilians killed since AP began collecting data on April 28, 2005.
The August total included 520 people killed in quadruple suicide bombings on Yazidi communities near the Syrian border.
Eighty-five occupation troops - 81 American and four British - died in August, down from 88 the month before, including 79 Americans. The average rate of 2.74 deaths per day was the second lowest since the surge started, and down from a peak of 4.23 per day in May.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army is planning to step up attacks against al Qaeda in Iraq. American plans were boosted this week when the most powerful Shiite militia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, ordered a halt to attacks by his Mahdi Army for up to six months to reorganize. "If implemented, Sadr's order holds the prospect of allowing coalition and Iraqi security forces to intensify their focus on al-Qaeda-Iraq and on protecting the Iraqi population," the U.S. military said in a statement Saturday.
The statement said an end to Mahdi Army violence "would also be an important step in helping Iraqi authorities focus greater attention on achieving the political and economic solutions necessary for progress and less on dealing with criminal activity, sectarian violence, kidnappings, assassinations, and attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces."
The government-run newspaper Sabah published a front-page editorial Saturday praising al-Sadr's declaration as "a correct decision" and urged other militia leaders to follow suit.