Baghdad Quieter as Surge Brigades Leave

As the last of the surge brigades are mostly out of Iraq, here's a look at how violence in Baghdad has dropped significantly since last June when all the surge brigades were fully in place, according to number released by the U.S. military.

Baghdad now sees an average of four attacks a day, compared with 43 a day last June.

Much of the significant drop-off in the level of violence occurred after May 20 when Iraqi troops entered northern Sadr City. While the northern part of the country is now seeing the bulk of the violence, Baghdad has become a much quieter place.

The number of attacks in Baghdad has fallen this year from a high of 740 in April to 112 in June. There have been 19 so far this month (as of two days ago). That's a sharp drop from the 1,278 attacks that occurred in Baghdad in June 2007, when the last of the surge brigades were in place. This June's attack levels in Baghdad were the lowest in that 12-month span.

Iraq Demands U.S. Withdraw Plan
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Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a spokesman for the U.S. military command responsible for the Baghdad area, said there has been a mission shift for U.S. troops to include more non-lethal assistance, while not letting up in their fight against insurgents by expanding their cooperation on the governance and economic fronts.

Meetings with local leaders are focused on putting people back to work by building up infrastructure. Examples of that policy are the $50 million being provided for construction of the airport road, sewage removal in Sadr City, and improving water access throughout Baghdad. Three swimming pools have been reopened in the city.

Baghdad Attacks:

June 2007 -- 1,278 attacks, averaging 43 a day
April 2008 -- 740, averaging 25 a day
May 2008 -- 470, averaging 15 a day
June 2008 -- 112 attacks, averaging 4 a day

Sadr City Attacks:

The numbers began dropping drastically after May 20 when Iraqi Security Forces moved into the northern part of Sadr City. Stover attributes the drop-off to the aerial pounding inflicted on insurgents who were launching rocket attacks, and to the departure of extremist special groups out of Sadr City after Iraqi forces moved in.

Stover notes that, even at the height of the violence in Sadr City, much of the rest of the city remained quiet. Here's the inventory of weapons seized inside northern Sadr City since May 20: 235 arms caches, including 157 of the powerful explosively formed projectiles, 269 improvised explosive devices, 100 mortars, artillery and rockets, and 1,700 rifles.

U.S. Casualty Rates in Baghdad Also Reflect Drop in Violence:

March -- 15
April -- 23
May -- 5
June -- 7
July -- 1, so far

IED Attacks Drop Off:

Most of the attacks in Baghdad are still IEDs, but their numbers have been reduced, as well as their effectiveness. In June, 51 IEDs went off, but an additional 65 were found and disabled. Compare that with the 279 that exploded in June 2007, and the 141 found and disabled. That's a reduction of 420 IED events down to 116.

Car Bombs Drop Off:

The number of car bombs has gone down, as well. Although one detonated Monday, two more were found and disabled. Last June, there were 18 car bomb attacks, and the numbers spiked to 42 in July 2007. They began dropping off to around 20 during the fall, to below 10 the first part of this year. In April, there were four car bombs, three in May and two in June.

Nationally, the numbers stand at 24 for the month of June, a reflection that the fight has moved to northern Iraq and out of Baghdad. In May, there were 23 car and truck bomb attacks, the fewest since August 2004.

Reasons for Decline in Violence

A top U.S. military official in Iraq offers some context for the remarkable reduction in violence. The official says al Qaeda in Iraq appears to have been nearly defeated, pushed to its last stronghold in Mosul and beset by a lack of money, supplies and recruits. Special Operations Forces are conducting operations every night against the group's remaining fighters in Mosul and desert areas to the west of the city.

This military source also tells ABC News that the flow of foreign fighters, including would-be suicide bombers, appears to have stopped. While that helps to stabilize the situation in Iraq, it may portend trouble for other parts of the world. One military intelligence official says some of those recruits are believed to be heading to northern Africa or Pakistan, instead.

Another development helping to ease the violence is the transformation of the Mahdi army from a fearsome Shiite militia into more of a social and political organization. However, some hard core elements of the Mahdi army may be regrouping, and many are believed to have fled to Iran.

Finally, Iraqi combat troops continue to improve their performance in the field and are increasingly taking the lead in operations, although they still rely heavily on American support.

Plans for Troop Withdrawal

So, will these developments help pave the way for U.S. troops to withdraw? Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. general in Iraq, has asked his commanders to prepare for discussions next week on the the prospects for further drawdowns this fall.

The thinking among commanders in Iraq is that there will be a one- to two-brigade reduction (that's about 3,5000 to 7,000 troops) before the end of the year. This, by the way, would still leave more troops in Iraq than there were at the start of the surge. That's because the surge came along with about 10,000 support troops that are still needed. Senior Pentagon officials are hoping for a deeper reduction.

For comparison: There were about 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq when the surge was announced in January 2007. Today, with almost all the surge combat brigades gone, there are still 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Petraeus and his top commanders remain concerned that the recent security gains could be lost, and that withdrawing troops too quickly would be a mistake. If Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama indeed visits Iraq later this month, commanders there are likely to outline for him, in detail, the dangers of withdrawing too quickly.

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