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Troop deaths in Iraq drop in February

  • Story Highlights
  • 29 U.S. troops killed in February, third-lowest monthly total since 2003
  • Civilian deaths rise 36 percent from January to February
  • February death toll lower than last year at this time
  • U.S. troop increase, Mehdi Army cease-fire, pro-U.S. Sunni groups credited
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From Mohammed Tawfeeq
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Twenty-nine U.S. troops died in Iraq during February, the third-lowest total of the nearly five-year-old war, according to Pentagon figures compiled by CNN.

Taps is sounded at Arlington National Cemetery for Army Sgt. John Carl Osmolski, who died February 5 in Iraq.

At the same time, Iraq's Interior Ministry issued figures on Saturday that showed the number of civilian deaths increased 36 percent to 633 from 466 last month. But the civilian death toll was lower than last February's.

The lowest number of U.S. troop deaths came in February 2004, when 20 troops died. The second lowest toll, at 23, was in December 2007.

Violence has dropped across Iraq over the last few months, and the troop death decrease reflects that trend, military and political officials in Iraq say.

The successes of the 2007 U.S. troop increase, a cease-fire called by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, and the growth of pro-U.S. Sunni groups are some of the reasons cited for the ebb in violence.

But at the same time, the U.S. and Iraqi militaries have emphasized the insurgency is still potent, and militants remain intent on carrying out large-scale attacks meant to dispirit their opponents.

High-profile bombings such as the pet market attacks in Baghdad and a suicide car bombing in Balad last month killed hundreds of Iraqis.

In all, 3,965 U.S. service members have been killed in the war. In addition, eight Defense Department employees were killed in Iraq.

When the U.S. troop increase began in February 2007, killings of troops increased as forces took on the insurgency in and around Baghdad.

There were 81 troop deaths in February and March of last year. Then last spring, the numbers dramatically shot up, with 104 deaths in April, 126 in May and 101 in June.

But numbers then began dropping. There were 78 troop deaths in July; 84 in August; 65 in September; 38 in October; 37 in November; 23 in December; 40 in January and 29 in February.

All but four of last month's troop deaths were in combat. The fighting went on in the war's hot spots, such as the Baghdad region, northern Iraq and Anbar province.

All but a handful of combat deaths were caused by bombings, but some came from small-arms fire. The troops who died were mostly soldiers, but a Marine and three Navy SEALs were killed as well.

Twenty Iraqi soldiers and 65 police officers were killed in February; 22 soldiers and 55 police officers were killed in January, Iraq's Interior Ministry said.

The ministry said 235 terrorists and 1,340 terror suspects were detained in February. It said 229 terrorists were killed and 1,220 terror suspects were detained in January.

Last year, the civilian death tolls were much higher, as sectarian violence and fighting between insurgents and troops raged. But the tolls began dropping in the summer.

There were 1,646 civilian deaths in February; 1,872 in March; 1,501 in April; 1,949 in May; 1,227 in June; 1,653 in July; 1,773 in August; 844 in September; 758 in October; 538 in November; and 481 in December.

These figures were collected from Iraqi Interior, Defense and Health ministries records. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

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