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Violence in Iraq at six-year low
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 - Violent attacks in Iraq are at their lowest levels since August 2003, a U.S. commander in Iraq said yesterday.
Army Maj. Gen. David Perkins, director for strategic effects at Multinational Force Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad the downtick in violence marks a 90-percent decrease since the surge of U.S. troops began in 2007.

Perkins added that on Feb. 20, no Iraqi civilians were killed or even targeted in attacks.

"This is a very significant event, and we are seeing more and more days like that throughout Iraq," he said.

Contributing to the improved security are the growing Iraqi security forces, which have increased the size of their ranks from 463,000 last year to 618,000 now - a 25-percent boost.

"It's not only an increase in the size and numbers, but the capability such as planning, orchestrating these very complicated operations, and then leading throughout the country of Iraq," Perkins said.

He added that Iraqi forces led and planned security for the countrywide provincial elections last month, in which some 7 million Iraqis participated in balloting that featured 14,000 registered candidates.

"On election day this year, there were no attacks which resulted in any disruption to any of the voting that went on," Perkins said. "This is in comparison to the last national election period in 2005, where we had hundreds of attacks on election day, with 44 deaths."

Election results are being widely accepted by victors and vanquished alike, he said.

"If you take a look at emerging democracies, historically, it is generally the second election that is sometimes more difficult than the first election," the general said. "By the time the second election comes, those who may have to lose power or give up power are not necessarily as excited about doing that.

"But the fact that we've had this second election and a very large number of people participating, both as candidates and as voters," he continued, "shows the enthusiasm that Iraqis have for the democratic process here in Iraq."

The downturn in violence comes as U.S. forces begin transferring a greater share of power to Iraqi forces in keeping with the status-of-forces agreement that became effective Jan. 1. The agreement between Washington and Baghdad stipulates that American combat forces pull back from cities and villages to major bases by June 30.

"There is no doubt that we will be out of the cities by June, and we are working this day by day," Perkins said. "And you can see many of these facilities we have already transferred, as well as the upcoming ones, are part of this plan to move out of the cities."

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