Page last updated at 15:41 GMT, Friday, 1 January 2010

Iraq civilian deaths 'down in 2009'

Funeral procession for a bombing victim in Baghdad, 24 Dec
Iraq still suffers the worst violence of any country, Iraq Body Count says

Violence against civilians in Iraq dropped dramatically in 2009, with the lowest death toll since the 2003 US-led invasion, a monitoring group says.

The independent Iraq Body Count group puts the number of civilian deaths for the year up to 16 December at 4,497, less than half the 2008 total of 9,226.

However, it says the impact of security improvements has levelled off and more large-scale attacks are being launched.

Official Iraqi statistics put the number of civilian deaths much lower.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who is running for re-election in March, has come under pressure over recent deadly attacks in Baghdad, Mosul and elsewhere.

More than 20 people, most of them police officers, were killed in a twin suicide blast in the central city of Ramadi two days ago.

This year "has seen a number of significant improvements in levels of armed and non-state terrorist violence in Iraq", the Iraq Body Count report said.

"However, even taking into account worsening conditions elsewhere in the world, such violence still afflicts Iraq's population more than any other."

The UK-based non-governmental group bases its reports on media accounts and information from hospitals, morgues and civil society groups.

The US is planning to withdraw its forces from Iraq following the elections scheduled for 7 March.

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