BAGHDAD Bombs and bullets took a bloody toll Wednesday, killing 20 Iraqis and a U.S. soldier, even as military officials reported a sharp fall in attacks over the past year a decline reflected in a steep decrease in violent deaths tallied by The Associated Press.
Lessening violence has been attributed mainly to the 2007 U.S. troop surge, a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq and government crackdowns on Sunni extremists and Shiite militias. But the U.S. general who led efforts to train Iraq's army and police units warned Wednesday that progress is mixed and long-term American help will be needed.
The spate of bombings Wednesday came a day after Iraqi officials stepped up pressure on Washington to agree to a specific timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops, in a sign of the government's growing confidence amid falling violence.
The Iraqi military said Wednesday that the number of "terrorist attacks" in June declined 85 percent from the same period a year ago.
An average of 25 attacks took place each day last month, compared with 160 during June 2007, an Iraqi army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Mousawi, said at a news conference. He did not provide details on the individual attacks included in the figures.
Meanwhile, an Associated Press count showed the number of Iraqi civilians and security personnel killed in June was down 66 percent from the same month a year earlier, dropping to 554 from 1,642.
The AP tallies civilian, Iraqi military and Iraqi police deaths each day as reported by police, hospital officials, morgue workers and verifiable witness accounts. Security personnel include Iraqi military, police and police recruits, bodyguards, and Awakening Council members.
In Washington, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who oversees training of Iraqi soldiers and police, presented a cautious tone on Iraq's improved security.
Since he took on that job in June 2007, Iraq's security forces have grown from 444,000 to 566,000 and are better able to execute operations on their own, Dubik said. But he added that the fast-growing force still lacks experienced leaders and the ability to train all its new recruits.
"As I often said to my command in Baghdad, 'Progress doesn't result in no problems, it results in new problems,"' Dubik said in written testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.
The second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, meanwhile, said the number of rocket and mortar attacks that can be linked to Iranian-sponsored fighters has fallen in recent weeks.
Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin attributed the decline mainly to efforts by Iraqi forces to choke off radical elements of Shiite militias in the southern cities of Basra and Amarah. He said he did not know whether the drop-off in such attacks was an intentional gesture by Iran.
In Wednesday's worst violence, a suicide car bomber killed eight civilians and wounded 41 people in an attack on a military convoy carrying a senior Iraqi commander in the northern city of Mosul, the Iraqi military said.
It said Lt. Gen. Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, chief of operations in Ninevah province, escaped unharmed but seven of his guards suffered wounds. Brig. Gen. Khalid Abdul-Sattar, an Iraqi military spokesman, described the attack as an attempt to assassinate the commander.
A bomb also exploded outside a bank in the former Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold of Fallujah west of Baghdad, killing four policemen and a civilian and wounding 15 others, Iraqi police said.
An initial blast occurred at 6:30 a.m., drawing police and a crowd of onlookers to the site, then a second bomb detonated, causing the casualties, police said.
Another bomb hit a U.S. convoy, killing one American soldier and wounding two in Samarra, north of Baghdad, the U.S. military reported. Bombings at a revered Shiite shrine in the city in 2006 and 2007 fueled fierce sectarian fighting between Sunnis and Shiites in many parts of Iraq, though security in the city has improved.
Late Wednesday, a gunman entered a mosque in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib district and opened fire on worshippers, killing six and wounding eight, said a police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Iraqi forces were searching for the gunman.
Assailants killed a policeman in a drive-by shooting in Mosul, where many insurgents are believed to have relocated after facing intense military pressure in Baghdad and other urban centers.
Police in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, said workers rebuilding a primary school had discovered 22 bodies, most of them under concrete in a playing field. Police said the remains were believed to have been buried more than a year ago.
Relatives of missing people were summoned to the site Tuesday. Those identified included a Muslim cleric whose wife recognized his clothes, a police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security reasons.
Ramadi, like Fallujah, was a stronghold of the Sunni-led insurgency, but violence there has dropped since Sunni tribal leaders and their fighters formed an alliance with the U.S. military.
With security improving, the U.S. military released a statement saying it has released 9,047 detainees so far this year, more than the 8,956 let go in all of 2007. The United States wants to phase out its role of running prisons in Iraq and transfer detainees to Iraqi control.