BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The number of civilians killed by violence in Iraq fell in August from the month before, even as the U.S. military formally ended combat operations and cut its numbers to 50,000, government data showed on Wednesday.
Casualties were high, however, among the Iraqi security forces as suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents targeted police and soldiers in an effort to undermine public faith in their abilities as they take over from U.S. troops.
The 295 civilians killed in bombings and shootings last month, according to Health Ministry statistics, was roughly a quarter lower than July’s tally of 396 and also below last August’s bodycount of 393.
A total of 54 soldiers and 77 police were also killed in insurgent attacks, the defense and interior ministries said.
The end to the U.S. combat mission on August 31 and accompanying fall in U.S. military strength has been met with apprehension by many Iraqis because of the failure of their leaders to form a new government six months after an election.
Al Qaeda-linked insurgents have sought to exploit the political impasse through persistent suicide bombings and attacks.
They have claimed credit for a suicide bombing at an army recruitment center in Baghdad on August 17, in which 57 people were killed, and attacks on police stations on August 25, in which more than 60 people were killed.
Overall violence in Iraq has fallen sharply since the 2006/07 height of the sectarian war unleashed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Still, insurgents and Shi’ite militia continue to carry out daily attacks around the country.
The 50,000 U.S. soldiers remaining in Iraq will turn their focus to advising and assisting their Iraqi counterparts, ahead of an end-2011 deadline for all U.S. soldiers to withdraw.
There were three U.S. fatalities in August attributed to hostile fire, up from just one the month before, according to icasualties.org.
Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by Jon Hemming