Iraqi death toll down by half from last year

The death toll for Iraqi civilians and members of its security forces fell to 865 last month, less than half the number of fatalities for the same month a year ago, according to Iraqi government figures.

The decreasing violence against Iraqis mirrors the drop in fatalities among U.S. forces. In July, five Americans were reported killed as a result of combat in Iraq, the lowest monthly number of deaths for the U.S. military in the war's five years.

The number of Iraqis killed last month was far lower than the 1,980 killed in July 2007 and lower than the 914 killed in Baghdad alone that month. The figures were provided by an Interior Ministry official who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak with the media.

Also on Friday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki waded into a sensitive political issue with comments emphasizing the primacy of the central government. Kurds and some Shiites tend to support more power for local regions, while Sunni Arabs are strongly in favor of more central authority.

Al-Maliki told tribal leaders in Baghdad the central government “must be more powerful than the federated regions, not the other way around.”

His comments appeared to be a response to the tense situation in Kirkuk, where a Kurdish majority of the provincial council called Thursday for the area to be annexed by the Kurdish regional government.