BAGHDAD – The number of Iraqi security forces killed in September rose by nearly a third to 159 compared with the same period last year, Associated Press figures showed Tuesday. U.S. troop deaths for the same period fell by nearly 40 percent to 25.
The figures are a sign that U.S. military is increasingly relying on the Iraqis, including U.S.-allied Sunni fighters, to take the lead in operations so they can assume responsibility for their own security and let the Americans eventually withdraw.
Overall civilian casualty figures remained relatively low despite a spate of deadly attacks in Baghdad and surrounding areas during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which ended Tuesday for Sunnis and ends Thursday for most Shiites.
But even as Iraqi security forces are taking the lead and violence in the country has plunged some 80 percent over the past 15 months, cautious Pentagon leaders have resisted calls for more rapid and hefty troop pullouts. Instead, top commanders insist the security situation remains fragile, and the improvements reversible.
One potential source of conflict comes this week, when the Shiite-led government begins to assume authority over tens of thousands of Sunni fighters who turned against al-Qaida in Iraq.
Six U.S. Army brigades, a National Guard unit, and three military headquarters have been ordered to deploy to Iraq next summer, the Pentagon announced Tuesday, in a move that would allow the U.S. to keep the number of troops largely steady there through much of next year.
There are now about 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. At least 4,176 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an AP count.
In the latest attack on U.S. troops, an American soldier was killed by small-arms fire Tuesday in northern Baghdad – one of only eight U.S. deaths during fighting in September.
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