World News

Iraq war victims down in October, despite church siege

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The number of civilians killed in violence in Iraq dropped sharply in October, despite a bloodbath on the last day of the month in a siege by al Qaeda gunmen of a Christian church, government data showed on Monday.

Bombings and others attacks killed 120 civilians last month compared to 185 in September, according to Health Ministry statistics. It was one of the lowest monthly civilian death tolls since the explosion of sectarian violence in 2006.

It was not immediately clear how many dead from Sunday’s rescue operation in the besieged church were included in the Health Ministry’s figures. A deputy interior minister said 52 hostages and police were killed.

Twenty soldiers and 45 police officers were also killed throughout last month, according to statistics from the defense and interior ministries, compared to 33 and 55, respectively, in September.

The ministries said 202 civilians, 86 police officers and 75 soldiers were wounded in October.

The slide in death tolls since August occurred despite predictions that the end of U.S. combat operations on August 31, and the handing of full responsibility for security to Iraqi forces, might result in a spike in attacks.

Insurgents have been targeting police and soldiers in an effort to undermine faith in the Iraqi security forces ahead of a full U.S. withdrawal by the end of next year.

A series of high-profile, mass casualty attacks in the weeks preceding the August 31 landmark made way for smaller-scale assassinations by silenced weapons and car bombs in September and October.

Some of the violence may also be political in nature rather than carried out by insurgents.

Iraq’s leaders have failed since a March election to agree on a new government and incumbent Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is locked in a battle with a Sunni-backed cross-sectarian alliance for control of the next administration.

A relatively long period without a major attack was interrupted on Friday when a suicide bomber killed 22 people in a cafe in restive Diyala province and on Sunday when gunmen took over the Catholic church in Baghdad.

Violence in Iraq has tumbled since the height of the sectarian warfare unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, but attacks by Sunni insurgents and Shi’ite militia still occur daily.

Writing by Muhanad Mohammed; Editing by Michael Christie and Peter Graff