Iraq monthly death toll 151 in February

BAGHDAD Fri Mar 2, 2012 6:16am EST

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Militants killed 151 Iraqi civilians and members of the security forces in February, according to official figures, showing that daily bombings and shootings remain a persistent fact of life despite the withdrawal of U.S. forces in December.

The overall level of violence was down slightly from the previous month. A spate of attacks on February 23 that killed more than 60 people was a reminder that militants can still cause large-scale slaughter.

According to Iraqi government figures, 91 civilians, 39 police and 21 soldiers were killed in February. The previous month, the death toll was 177 - 99 civilians, 37 police and 41 soldiers.

At the height of sectarian violence in 2006-07, monthly civilian death tolls were regularly around 3,000.

The government released figures this week giving an official death toll of nearly 70,000 for the years of the U.S. presence. Other sources, such as Iraq Body Count, a group which compiles data from media reports, give higher figures.

While Iraq is much safer than a few years ago, it still has not reached the point where most of the country is considered safe enough for international investors to visit without special security measures, which is holding its economy back.

The withdrawal of U.S. troops nearly nine years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein was followed by a political crisis after the main Sunni-backed party withdrew from the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Authorities charged Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a top Sunni politician, with running death squads. A series of bomb attacks in December and January raised fears of a return of sectarian violence.

The political crisis appears to have abated in recent weeks with most members of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc abandoning a boycott of parliament and the cabinet.

February was on course to be one of the most peaceful months in Iraq since the invasion, until the attacks on February 23 on mostly Shi'ite targets.

An al Qaeda-linked Sunni militant group claimed responsibility for those attacks and vowed to battle to overthrow the Shi'ite-led government.

A suicide car bomb attack on a Baghdad police academy on February 19 also killed 19 people.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ameer; Editing by Peter Graff)

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