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Saturday, May 31, 2008

U.S. Casualties Plunge in Iraq

U.S. Casualties plunged in May and reached near all time low levels.

U.S. military deaths plunged in May to the lowest monthly level in more than four years and civilian casualties were down sharply, too, as Iraqi forces assumed the lead in offensives in three cities and a truce with Shiite extremists took hold.

But many Iraqis as well as U.S. officials and private security analysts are uncertain whether the current lull signals a long-term trend or is simply a breathing spell like so many others before.U.S. commanders also warn the relative peace is fragile because no lasting political agreements have been reached among the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities.

Talks on returning Sunnis to the government broke down this week, and tensions among rival Shiite parties remain high despite a May 11 truce that ended weeks of bloody fighting in Baghdad's Sadr City district.

What's important is not merely the raw numbers. What's more important is the dynamic behind them. The main reason they plunged is the the Iraqi military has begun to do most of the heavy lifting in Iraq's biggest trouble spots like Basrah, Sadr City, and Mosul. Furthermore, the May numbers came after March and April saw steep increases to 39 and 52. Violence was up on the whole in both those months as the coalition confronted JAM as well as AQI in Basrah, Sadr City, and Mosul.

Many war detractors used the increase in violence to question the gains of the surge. Now, we see that the hard work the coalition put in those months paid off with significant drop in violence in May.

Iraqi deaths were also halved from April to May from 1088 to 522. The drop in violence comes on the heels of important political progress as well. The Iraqis recently passed an oil revenue sharing law, plan provincial elections in October, and a De Baathification law. All of these are vital steps to the counter insurgency strategy that Petraeus created in July of 2006. Now, it is up to the supporters of the war in Iraq to make sure the public at large knows that the gains are real, tangible, and that victory is now in sight.

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