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Military Reports Lower Casualty Rates in Key Iraq Insurgent Strongholds

U.S. combat troop deaths and other violence in Iraq are down significantly in some of the most dangerous places of insurgent activity, including Al Anbar province, military officials in Washington and Baghdad said Wednesday.

Maybe most significant was that last week there was not a single military casualty — Iraqi or U.S. — in Anbar, said Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, a Joint Chiefs spokesman. It is apparently the first time since March 2003 that could be said.

The numbers reflect the timeframe between mid-June — the peak of the troop surge President Bush announced in January — and the beginning of this week. The surge amounted to roughly 30,000 more troops in Iraq, hitting full-force with nearly 170,000 U.S. troops.

The numbers might be the most positive sign yet of progress against insurgent activity since January.

Sherlock also listed several other statistics that he said showed terrorist activity is decreasing:

— Violence in and around Baghdad is down 59 percent.

— Car bombs are down 65 percent.

— Casualties from car bombs and roadside bombs are down by 80 percent.

— Casualties from enemy attacks down 77 percent.

— Operations against Iraqi security forces are down 62 percent.

— Assassination attempts for sectarian reasons are down 72 percent.

The Pentagon did not immediately provide specific numbers of how many incidents had occurred.

Earlier Wednesday Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, and Iraqi Gen. Abud Qanbar briefed reporters from Baghdad, also showing violence decreasing since the surge peak.

Odierno said that with the decrease in violence, he expected the U.S. military to be able to hand over 40 to 50 percent of operations to the Iraqis by the end of 2008.

"We are anxious for them to take over full responsibility as they are anxious to take full responsibility," Odierno said.

"You will see steady progress over the next 12 months of us turning large portions of Baghdad (over) to Iraqi security forces as we continue to have success. I think it will be somewhere between 40 and 50 percent by the end of the year," he said.

He added he "doesn't have a crystal ball" but this is the plan.

"The terrorist operations have decreased to their lowest levels," Qanbar said.

The statistics also follow what is known as the "Anbar Awakening" — the point in time earlier this year when Sunni tribal chiefs stopped fighting and began cooperating with U.S. forces in Iraq to defeat Al Qaeda forces that have been responsible for most of the large car bombings.

Bush went to Anbar in September and thanked the Sunni sheikhs in person, but only a few days after Bush's surprise Labor Day visit, one of them — Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha — was killed by assassins.

FOX News' Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.

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