Attacks in Baghdad kill 39

A series of attacks in eastern Baghdad this evening killed at least 39 people and wounded 115 within half an hour, police said.

The attacks included two car bombs – one at a popular market and one on a street about 2km away – four mortar rounds in two locations; two rockets in two separate locations; a roadside bomb and a bomb in a building, police said.

The dead and wounded were taken to four hospitals, and it was not immediately clear how many casualties each attack had caused, police and hospital officials said.

The attacks came on the day the prime minister said Iraqi forces will take over security control of a southern province from coalition troops next month.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said that Iraqi security forces will take over Dhi Qar province in September.

It will be the second province to come under the full control of Iraqi troops after the July handover of the southern Muthana province from British troops.

Preliminary figures show that violent deaths in Iraq dropped substantially in August from record levels the previous month, Health Ministry officials said today. Civilians accounted for most of the recorded deaths.

At least 973 violent deaths were recorded throughout Iraq as of Wednesday, Dr. Riad Abdul Amir of the ministry’s statistics bureau told The Associated Press. They included 715 civilians, 80 Iraqi soldiers, 74 police and 104 “terrorists,” he said.

The term “terrorists” likely include both Sunni and Shiite militants.

That represents a significant drop from July’s figure of 3,500 deaths, reported by Deputy Health Minister Adel Muhsin. He said that was the highest monthly figure recorded since the war began in March 2003.

About 1,500 of the July deaths occurred in Baghdad, Mushin said. Violent deaths in the capital fell to 550 in August, officials said today. That was the lowest monthly tally in Baghdad this year.

The figures provided by Abdul Amir included reports his office received from morgues and Ministries of Interior and Defence.

US officials attribute the drop in violent deaths to a major security crackdown launched August 7. About 8,000 US troops and 3,000 Iraqi soldiers were sent to the capital to search homes systematically and patrol the streets.

On Monday, US military spokesman Maj Gen William Caldwell said the murder rate in Baghdad had fallen by 46 percent from July to August and “we are actually seeing progress out there.”

But the decline in Iraqi deaths has not been matched by a drop in American casualties. At least 62 US service members died in Iraq in August, compared with 43 in July.

Ministry officials stressed that the figures were preliminary and a final count for the month would not be ready until next week. Nevertheless, officials said they were convinced that deaths were down sharply.

“In June and July we were getting scary numbers,” said Hakim al-Zamly, a Health Ministry executive director. “There was an unreasonable number of gruesome killings and kidnappings.”

He said it was too early to determine whether the drop was a breakthrough but “there’s definitely a slight, relative improvement".

Accurate figures on the number of people who have died in the Iraq conflict have long been the subject of debate. Police and hospitals often give widely conflicting figures of those killed in major bombings.

It is also unclear how many people may have been abducted by insurgents or sectarian death squads, then slain and their bodies never found.

According to an AP count, at least 11,916 Iraqis have been killed in war-related violence since the first elected Iraqi government since the fall of Saddam Hussein took office on April 28, 2005.

Iraq Body Count, a private group that bases its figures in part on reports by 40 media outlets, puts the number of civilian deaths since the conflict began at between 41,041 and 45,613.

The Brookings Institution Iraq Index, maintained by Michael O’Hanlon, put the count between 20,000 and 37,200 as of July 5, 2006.

Last December, US President George Bush, in answering questions following a speech to the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia, estimated “30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis".

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