Safety Improvements Mix With Signs of War

U.S. fatalities in Iraq reached their lowest levels in eight months, with 78 troops killed in July.

The drop coincides with the troop surge in the region, but it is difficult to say things are getting better, as more than two Americans were still killed every day during the past month.

The U.S. military said it had expected casualties to go up as extra troops forced their way into new places. "We've now taken control of these areas. Since then ... we've now started to see a slow, gradual reduction in casualties," said Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno.

Life may also be getting less grim for those Iraqis living in the area where more troops are on the ground.

In December, Iraqi police picked up an average of 38 bodies a day on the streets of Baghdad — in July, the daily tally averaged 21.

'Much Safer Than Before'

Despite improvements, car bomb attacks have not stopped in Baghdad. Today was particularly bad — 69 people died in four separate blasts around the city.

But Dr. Jamal Taha, a surgeon at Baghdad's ever-busy Yarmuk Hospital, said the overall number of gunshot and car bomb injuries coming to his ER are down.

"If you are speaking about what happened now, and comparing it with six months ago, yes, it is much safer than before," Taha told ABC's Terry McCarthy.

Problems persist — since the surge took hold around Baghdad, suicide bombers have moved farther north, killing hundreds in and around Kirkuk.

And in the critical political arena, the picture is bleak.

Today, the main Sunni block of lawmakers withdrew from the Iraqi government, and accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's supporters of arrogance. Plus, the Iraqi parliament has not passed a single bill to reconcile Sunnis and Shiites — which has angered many.

"We have suffered over 3,000 American soldiers killed in battle," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today. "I think there has been a concern at the slow pace with which the Iraqi political leadership has approached reconciliation, while these sacrifices were being made."

The United States may make some military headway in Iraq, but if Iraqi politicians don't start talking peace before the U.S. military has to wind down the surge, it could all be for nothing.