Baghdad–The number of Iraqi civilians killed in violence in Iraq this year fell to its lowest level since the 2003 US-led invasion, but the decline is slowing as low-level conflict takes root, a study showed on Thursday.
Human rights group Iraq Body Count (IBC) put the 2010 civilian death toll in Iraq at 3976 up to 23 December, compared to 4680 in the 2009 year. IBC said that the annual decline in the number of violent deaths had slowed to 15 percent, compared to declines of 50 percent and 63 percent in the previous two years.
"Taken as a whole and seen in the context of immediately preceding years, the 2010 data suggest a persistent low-level conflict in Iraq that will continue to kill civilians at a similar rate for years to come," IBC said in its yearly study.
The all-out sectarian slaughter between once dominant Sunnis and majority Shias has eased in Iraq but Sunni Islamist insurgents, groups linked to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party and armed Shia militia, stage daily attacks.
"The within-year trend for 2010 is somewhat more hopeful: the US 'end of combat mission' on 31 Aug 2010 was followed by an immediate halving in the number of civilian deaths between August and September, and lowered levels have continued into the winter months," IBC said.
IBC said the northern city of Mosul and the capital Baghdad continued to be Iraq's two most violent cities.
The study's numbers are higher than those provided by the Iraqi government.
While December figures are not available yet, the number of violent civilian deaths from January through November 2010 was 2416, according to monthly Ministry of Health data.
About 4748 foreign soldiers have also been killed in combat in Iraq since the war began, according to www.icasualties.org, which tracks casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The annual foreign military toll in Iraq has fallen sharply, too, especially as Iraqi forces have taken the lead on security.