Not a single American service member died in Iraq in August, a first since the U.S. invasion of the country in 2003.

Iraqi citizens and soldiers did not fare as well during the month. Hundreds died amid ongoing suicide bombings and assassinations as sectarian violence continued.

But American military commanders are optimistic. They say the drop in U.S. combat deaths is a sign that the Iraqi government is cracking down on Iranian-backed Shiite militias and could help smooth the way for the planned U.S. withdrawal from the country by the end of the year. –BF

The New York Times:

American military commanders attribute the drop in deaths to the Iraqi government finally pushing back against Iran and the Shiite militias, as well as aggressive unilateral strikes by United States forces. If the Americans are correct, and August is not just a statistical blip, it may also be connected to the continuing negotiations between American and Iraqi officials over whether to leave some troops behind after the end of the year, experts said. Though all sides in Iraq have said they want the Americans to leave, each has some interest in seeing that some troops stay behind.

The Iraqi government continues to rely on American forces and expertise to preserve security. Shiite militias would lose some of their rationale for existence, and Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents could lose a useful foil. For the United States, domestic political concerns would also make it easier to sell an extension to a war-weary public if there were fewer casualties.

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