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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 September 2007, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
US claims fall in Baghdad attacks
Iraqi boys walk past a US soldier in Baghdad (14/09)
Ordinary Iraqis are not convinced the surge is working
Violence in Baghdad has fallen by 50% since the start of 2007, the deputy commander of US troops in Iraq says.

Lt Gen Ray Odierno said civilian casualties had dropped from 32 a day to 12 a day, but remained too high.

Correspondents say the fall is a result of the US "surge" of extra troops between February and June, which took US troop levels in Iraq to 168,000.

However, a recent BBC/ABC poll of Iraqis found about 70% believe security had deteriorated since the US surge.

According to the poll, more than two-thirds said that in terms of security and the conditions for political dialogue, reconstruction and economic development, the surge had made things worse.

Al-Qaeda 'in retreat'

The US said its assessment was based on statistics from military command centres and the Iraqi police and government.

Gen Odierno told a news conference in the capital: "We are starting to see a normalisation of life across Iraq and also in Baghdad."

A helicopter flies over the Green Zone in Baghdad (22 March 2007)
Some 30,000 US troops are likely to be withdrawn by mid-2008
The military commander said US and Iraqi forces were keeping al-Qaeda and other militant groups "off balance" by targeting key figures.

He said this had led to an increase in the discovery of weapons caches, which in turn resulted in a decrease in the number of attacks with improvised explosive devices.

The latest assessment comes amid heightened tensions between the US and Iraq's government, after 11 Iraqi civilians were killed when guards from the US private security firm, Blackwater, opened fire in a busy Baghdad square on Sunday.

Blackwater says its guards acted in self-defence, but this has been disputed by Iraqi eyewitnesses.

US and Iraqi authorities say they have set up a joint investigative commission following the deadly shoot-out.




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