Image: Iraqi municipality workers
Ali Yussef  /  AFP - Getty Images
Iraqi municipality workers plant flowers at a square in Baghdad on Sunday. As if sensing a possible shift in the capital, Iraqis in mainly Shiite eastern Baghdad have returned to the streets in numbers not seen in months.
updated 11/2/2007 8:04:43 PM ET 2007-11-03T00:04:43

Police found the bodies of six victims of sectarian violence dumped in three Iraqi cities Friday. There were no reported shootings or bombings, and it was only the second day this year that the sectarian death toll fell below 10, according to an Associated Press count.

Both days were Fridays, the Muslim day of rest and prayer. The last was Feb. 23, when AP records show five Iraqis were found dead in Baghdad. No one died in shootings or bombings on that day either.

On average, 56 Iraqis — civilians and security forces — have died each day so far in this very bloody year.

But there appears to be a marked difference between Friday and Feb. 23.

More than four months after U.S. forces completed a 30,000-strong force buildup, the death toll for both Iraqis and Americans has fallen dramatically for two months running.

U.S. commanders credit a new tactic of putting troops into neighborhood bases and of signing on disaffected former enemies as new allies in the fight against the most radical elements in both the Shiite and Sunni communities, especially al-Qaida in Iraq. Anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also has called a cease-fire, a move seen largely responsible for the drop in sectarian murders.

On Feb. 23, when the death toll was five, the foreshortened month would end with 1,801 Iraqis killed. While impossible to forecast what this month holds, Friday’s stunningly low figure follows an Iraqi toll of 905 last month. The number was 1,023 in September and 1,956 in August. The figures for U.S. military deaths followed the same downward trend: 84 in August; 65 in September; 39 last month.

Iraqi: 'Things are looking better now'
As if sensing a possible shift in the capital, Iraqis in mainly Shiite eastern Baghdad have returned to the streets in numbers not seen in months.

Firas Rahim, who owns a shop selling clothing for men and children in the Karradah neighborhood, said the number of customers in the store has risen 75 percent in recent days. He now stays open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Before the chaos diminished he was open only from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“I was afraid to stay open longer because of the bombings and violence. Things are looking better now. My business is booming,” Rahim said. “I have whole families coming in again. It’s a positive sign. I hope it lasts. Baghdadis love to live at night. I used to close after midnight and hope, someday, I can again.”

Taxis and minibuses, scarce even on recent Fridays, were plentiful. In the mainly Shiite district of New Baghdad, in the east of the capital, a small amusement park was under repair, workmen rejuvenating the rides. The park was closed when the United States invaded in March 2003.

Shops were under repair for reopening. And in the neighborhood market, there were women present, able to enter without searches for the first time in months. Residents said hundreds of shops that had been closed on recent Fridays were now open.

But people remain bunkered in many neighborhoods of west Baghdad where struggle for control still rages among militant Shiites and Sunnis.

U.S. kills al-Qaida in Iraq fighters
Despite the overall relative calm for civilians and Iraqi forces, the military said U.S. forces backed by attack helicopters Friday killed 10 al-Qaida in Iraq fighters, two of them wearing suicide bomb vests, in Salman Pak on the southeast fringe of Baghdad.

The military statement said American forces found a small weapons cache, including several suicide vests, heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft artillery.

North of Baghdad, the military said, it captured an al-Qaida fighter responsible for communicating between combat units and the organization’s leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, know to the Americans as Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

And three U.S. airmen were killed in combat operations north of Baghdad, the military said in a separate statement.

All three, assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, died Thursday near Balad Air Base, some 50 miles north of Baghdad, the military said.

The statement did not give details on how the airmen died, nor whether they died in aircraft or on the ground. No air crashes, emergency landings or shootings were reported Thursday or Friday.

In a second statement, the U.S. military said Apache helicopters shot a Hellfire missile and destroyed an anti-aircraft weapon Thursday south of Baghdad. Two suspected insurgents were spotted walking away from the weapon, which had been covered by a tarp, the statement said.

At least 3,848 U.S. military personnel have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an AP count.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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