BAGHDAD, (AFP) – The number of civilian deaths this year from violence in Iraq is set to be the lowest since the 2003 US-led invasion, according to a preliminary report released on Thursday by a monitoring group.
Iraq Body Count (IBC), an independent Britain-based group, put the number of civilian deaths in Iraq as of December 25 at 3,976, down 704 from 4,680 in 2009. But it also noted that attacks remain common across much of the country.
The group will release final statistics for 2010 after the end of the year.
An AFP tally based on data released by the Iraqi defence, interior and health ministries shows 2,416 civilians were killed until the end of November 2010, compared with 2,800 for all of 2009.
Government figures for December are not yet available.
“This is a good indication, though it does not reach the required level,” Ali Moussawi, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said when asked about the IBC report.
“We hope to eliminate all the danger that threatens civilians, especially terrorist attacks,” he said.
“There was a big improvement in security” in 2010, Iraqi defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari said. “Unfortunately, there were still victims” of attacks.
David Ranz, the spokesman for the US embassy in Baghdad, said: “While violence remains a significant challenge for the new government, the statistics reflect the growing capacity of the ISF (Iraqi security forces) to provide stability and security for the citizens of Iraq.”
IBC has raised doubts about whether the number of civilians killed in Iraq violence will continue to fall.
In its report on 2009, the group said data from the second half of that year showed about the same number of civilian deaths as in the first half, which “may indicate that the situation is no longer improving.”
The statistics up to December 25 this year bear out that observation, IBC’s 2010 report said.
The preliminary statistics for 2010 “showed the smallest year-on-year reduction (proportionally as well as in absolute terms) since violence levels began to reduce from late 2007 onwards,” it said.
“2008 reduced deaths by 63 percent on 2007, 2009 by 50 percent on 2008, but 2010 only improved by 15 percent on 2009.”
“Taken as a whole and seen in the context of immediately preceding years, the 2010 data suggests a persistent low-level conflict in Iraq that will continue to kill civilians at a similar rate for years to come.”
Reported non-combatant Iraqi deaths “resulting directly from actions involving US-led coalition forces” have dropped from 64 in 2009 to 32 up until December 25 this year, while deaths involving Iraqi forces have decreased from 103 to 96, it said.
Some 50,000 US troops remain in the country, but a security accord between Baghdad and Washington requires that they be withdrawn by the end of 2011.
The number of large-scale bombings — those “killing over 50 civilians per attack” — has increased in 2010 from the year before, although the number of people killed in such bombings has declined.
There were nine large-scale bombings until December 25, 2010, killing 567 people, compared with eight in 2009 killing 750, the report said.
Attacks also remain commonplace: “2010 averaged nearly two explosions a day by non-state forces that caused civilian deaths (675 explosions killing 2,605),” the report said.
It also noted that attacks occur across the country in 13 of 18 of Iraq’s provinces in 2010.
While the overall number of civilians killed in Iraq decreased from 2009 to 2010, the number of journalists killed there has increased, media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in a report released on Thursday.
“Iraq saw a return to earlier levels of violence with a total of seven journalists killed in 2010 as against four in 2009,” RSF said in the report, which said Iraq tied with Mexico for the country with the second most journalists killed in 2010, behind Pakistan with 11.
But 2010 saw one of the worst attacks on Christians, with 44 worshippers and two priests killed in an October 31 massacre at a Baghdad cathedral.
On Thursday, at least two Christians were killed and 12 people wounded in a string of six attacks on Christian targets in Baghdad, an interior ministry official said.
Maliki, who was approved by parliament for a second term in office along with a national unity cabinet on December 21, has cited security as one of his top three priorities.