(CNSNews.com) – The month after U.S. forces completed their withdrawal from Iraqi cities has been the least deadly for U.S. forces in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion, while the death toll for Iraqi civilians in July also dropped significantly compared with the previous month, despite continuing terrorist attacks.
Seven Americans – six soldiers and a Marine – were killed in Iraq during July, four of them in combat-related circumstances.
The previous lowest monthly death toll was last March, when nine U.S. personnel died, four in combat.
July 2008 saw 13 deaths, eight in combat, while July 2007, which coincided with the implementation of the troop “surge” strategy, witnessed 81 deaths, 69 of them combat-related.
According to a Cybercast News Service database, the deadliest months of the war for U.S. forces were April 2004 (136 total deaths, 125 hostile), November 2004 (146 total, 139 hostile), December 2006 (117 total, 106 hostile) and May 2007 (125 total, 121 hostile).
Following the surge – the deployment of an additional 20,000 soldiers in Marines during the first half of 2007 to counter serious anti-coalition and sectarian violence – fatalities dropped steadily. Since combat-related deaths dropped into single digits for the first time in July 2008, they have remained there for eight of following 13 months, the database shows.
For Iraqi civilians and forces, July has also been a marked improvement on the previous month, when a spate of deadly bombings were attributed to attempts by insurgents and terrorists to stoke anxiety ahead of the U.S. pullback – and perhaps also to give the impression that American forces were withdrawing under fire.
Government statistics indicate that a total of 275 Iraqis – 223 civilians, 12 soldiers and 40 policemen – were killed during July, compared to 437 deaths in June.
By comparison, at the height of the 2007 hostilities, up to 300 Iraqi armed force members were being killed a month, while the early months of that year saw civilian casualties approach the 3,000 mark.
Despite the positive overall trend, the final day of July saw terrorist bombers strike again, targeting Friday prayers at Shi’ite mosques in the capital, and killing at least 24 people with more than 100 wounded, police said.
August began with yet another attack – a car bombing at a marketplace in Haditha, Anbar province on Sunday which reportedly killed four people and injured another 17.
Officials have warned that insurgents may step up assaults in the months leading up to national elections in January.
Under a bilateral agreement drawn up late last year, U.S. troops redeployed out of all urban areas by the end of June. The agreement calls for all combat operations to end by the end of August 2010, and for all troops to withdraw from the country by the end of 2011.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit last week that the U.S. could accelerate its withdrawal plans somewhat if Iraq continues to stabilize. There are currently around 134,000 American troops in Iraq.
The improvements in Iraq stand in stark contrast to the situation in Afghanistan, where July had the highest death toll for American troops since U.S.-led forces attacked to topple the Taliban regime following 9/11.
Forty-four Americans were killed in Afghanistan in July, among a total of 75 coalition force members. Of the 44 Americans who died, 38 were killed in combat. Britain lost 22 personnel, all but one of them in combat.
The most deadly month in Afghanistan before July was last August, when 46 coalition members were killed, 22 of them Americans, and 17 of those 22 in combat.
Presidential and provincial elections are due to be held in Afghanistan on August 20.
U.S. combat casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom in July
U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon T. Lara, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas, died on July 19 while supporting combat operations in Anbar province.
Three members of the Minnesota Army National Guard died on July 16 in Basra of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked their unit with mortars, rockets and artillery. They were Spc. Daniel P. Drevnick, 22, of Woodbury, Minn., Spc. James D. Wertish, 20, of Olivia, Minn., and Spc. Carlos E. Wilcox IV, 27, of Cottage Grove, Minn.
Basra in the south has been among the least deadly of Iraq’s provinces for U.S. troops. Prior to the deaths this month, Basra has accounted for only two other combat fatalities since September 2005.
(Last May, a U.S. Army major, Steven Hutchison of Scottsdale, Ariz., was killed in Basra when an IED exploded near his car. At 60, Hutchison was the oldest American killed in combat in Iraq. An IED attack in Basra in April 2008 killed a U.S. Marine, 1st Lieut. Matthew Vandergrift, 28, of Littleton, Ohio.)
Col. Butch Kievenaar, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division and the top U.S. officer in southern Iraq, told a Pentagon briefing last month that some Iraqi “extremist elements” have been returning to Basra from Iran.
While some groups were still receiving support from Iran, he said, “most of the individuals that we see or deal with on a daily basis” were not able to get hold of the resources they need to attack U.S. or Iraqi forces as freely as they were in the past.
Non-combat casualties in Iraq during July
Army Spc. Herberth A. Berrios-Campos, 21, of Bealeton, Va., died on July 24 in Salman Pak, Babil province, of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident.
Army Chief Warrant Officer Rodney A. Jarvis, 34, of Akron, Ohio, died on July 13 in Baghdad of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident
Army Pfc. Lucas M. Bregg, 19, of Wright City, Mo., died on July 8 in Baghdad of injuries suffered from a non-combat related incident.