BAGHDAD, Iraq The U.S. military said Friday that two American soldiers had died in separate incidents, but despite the latest deaths, December was shaping up to be the safest month for U.S. forces in Iraq since 2004.
The military gave few details of the most recent casualties. Both occurred Thursday. One soldier died of wounds suffered when a bomb exploded during a foot patrol; another was killed by gunfire in the capital, the U.S. military said.
In the first two weeks of November, 23 American forces had been killed, compared to 10 in December, according to the Department of Defense and www.icasualties.org.
If the current pace of less than one death per day is maintained, December could be the least deadly month since February 2004, when 20 U.S. troops died, according to www.icasualties.org.
A total of 3,891 American troops have died since the war began in March 2003.
U.S. officials attribute the downward trend in deaths to security gains resulting from Iraqis' rejection of insurgents and to increased troop strength resulting from the addition of 28,500 American forces sent to Iraq earlier in 2007.
These factors also have led to a drop in bombings and other attacks on civilians, say Iraqi and American officials.
Nevertheless, the country remains far from calm. Shiite Muslim clergymen used Friday prayers to condemn bombings in the southern city of Amarah that killed 28 people.
In the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in northeastern Baghdad, Sheik Suhail Aqabi said the blasts in normally quiet Amarah were aimed at provoking violence so that security forces would have an excuse to crack down on the Shiite city.
He urged Iraqi security forces "not to be a sword in the hands of the occupiers," a reference to U.S. troops.
Aqabi was speaking on behalf of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has long urged the ouster of U.S. forces and who accuses them of targeting his followers. After the sermon, worshipers marched through Sadr City denouncing the Amarah attacks and the American presence.
Also Friday, Iraqi police said a rocket slammed into Baghdad's Green Zone, the walled enclave in the city that is home to the U.S. Embassy and many Iraqi and American government offices. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Mortars and rockets occasionally are launched into the Green Zone, though attacks are far less frequent than they were during the summer when several daily bombardments were normal.