by Aamer Madhani
The month of May is on track to be the least deadly month for troops serving in Iraq since February 2004.
As of late Friday, the Pentagon reported that 21 coalition troops--19 Americans and two Georgians--died in Iraq this month. Four of the American deaths were categorized as "non-hostile" incidents by the U.S. military.
There also appears to be a marked reduction in violence against Iraqi civilians. The Associated Press reports that 516 Iraqis were killed violently this month, the lowest monthly figure since December 2005 when 375 civilians were killed.
Speaking to reporters in Baghdad earlier this week, Admiral Patrick Driscoll, a Multi-National Force Iraq spokesman, said that security incidents decreased to a level not seen since March of 2004. Overall, the number of attacks has decreased by 70 percent since the last of "surge" troops arrived in June of 2007, Driscoll said.
U.S. commanders are giving much of the credit to the improved Iraqi security forces but a truce between anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and the Iraqi government hammered out earlier this month is likely a more significant factor in the drop in violence.
Since the truce, thousands of Iraqi troops are patrolling the sprawling slums of Sadr City, the Baghdad enclave of more than 2 million Shiites that is the base of Sadr's popular support
For the moment, the cleric's Mahdi Army loyalists are holding their fire, but the situation remains tenuous.
On Friday, thousands of followers of Sadr protested in Shiite enclaves across Iraq against plans for a long-term security pact that would allow for an extended U.S. military presence in the country.
Sadr wants any security pact between the Americans and Iraqi government subject to a referrendum.