The number of civilians who died as a result of violence in Iraq dropped for a third straight year in 2010, with improvement accelerating after the U.S. declared the official end of combat operations, a nonprofit group reported.
Civilian deaths from violence fell 15 percent to 3,976 this year as of Dec. 25, from 4,680 a year earlier, according to a report released today by U.K.-based Iraq Body Count.
Two-thirds of civilian deaths this year were caused by bombings attributed by authorities to sectarian and terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the report said. Actions by U.S. troops led directly to 32 civilian deaths this year, compared with 64 in 2009, according to the group.
The overall civilian toll dropped by half in the first month after the U.S. declared the official end of combat operations in late August, and stayed at the lower levels through the end of the year.
Still, year-on-year improvement is slowing. The 15 percent drop this year compares with a decline of 50 percent in 2009 from a year earlier and 63 percent in 2008 from the height of the conflict the year before, the group said.
“The 2010 data suggest a persistent low-level conflict in Iraq that will continue to kill civilians at a similar rate for years to come,” said Iraq Body Count, which aims to track the civilian toll of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The U.S. military doesn’t release civilian casualty figures for Iraq.
“We at United States Forces-Iraq have continued to see the trend in casualties diminishing dramatically over the past two years,” Army Major Rob Phillips, a spokesman in Baghdad, said in an e-mail. He cited the “improvement of overall security in the country and the increased capability of the Iraqi Security Forces.”
This year’s number of civilian deaths from violence brings the total since the invasion to 108,391 as of Dec. 25, according to Iraq Body Count. President Barack Obama took office in January 2009 pledging to bring an end to U.S. involvement in the war. He drew closer to the goal with the exit of all but 50,000 troops this year and the transition to a primarily advisory and assistance role.
The number of U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq since the invasion totals 4,433, including 3,496 killed in action, according to the Pentagon.
The U.S. plans to withdraw its remaining troops by the end of 2011 in accordance with a U.S.-Iraq agreement forged under then-President George W. Bush. While Obama administration officials have said they are open to discussing an extension, Iraq’s government won’t consider the issue until its newly appointed officials are in place, the country’s ambassador to Washington said last month.
“There has been more talk of this idea in Washington than in Baghdad,” Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie said in an interview.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was quoted Dec. 28 by the Wall Street Journal as saying in an interview that “the last American soldier will leave Iraq” as agreed and that the accord is “not subject to extension.”
Iraq’s parliament last week approved Maliki’s ministerial appointments after months of wrangling among parties that followed an election earlier this year in which no party won a clear majority. Concerns that the delay in forming a government might escalate violence proved unfounded, even as periodic high-profile attacks took their toll.
In the early part of the year, the northern city of Mosul, with an estimated population of 1.8 million, suffered the most violence, Iraq Body Count reported. By later in the year, the highest number of incidents was occurring in Baghdad, which has 6.5 million residents.
Civilian losses made up 78 percent of the 5,120 documented violent deaths in Iraq for 2010, including the 60 U.S. forces killed this year and the Iraqi government’s figures of 408 Iraqi soldiers and 676 insurgents who died, Iraq Body Count said.
Iraqi forces’ operations resulted in the deaths of 96 non-combatants in 2010, down from 103 a year earlier, the report said.
Non-state forces were responsible for an average of two explosions a day, according to Iraq Body Count. Such attacks killed 2,605 civilians and accounted for 66 percent of all Iraqi civilian deaths during the year, the report said.
“After nearly eight years, the security crisis in Iraq remains notable for its sheer relentlessness,” Iraq Body Count said.
The group tallies deaths of non-combatants killed by military or paramilitary action and the breakdown of security following the invasion. The data come from cross-checked media reports, hospitals, morgues, non-governmental organizations and official figures.