[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
BAGHDAD, 21 October 2007 (IRIN) - Iraqis are breathing a sigh of relief as violence in their war-torn country is ebbing and the number of violence-related victims has dropped sharply since the beginning of this year, according to statistics compiled by the country's interior, defence and health ministries.
"Violence-related deaths in September dropped remarkably to levels not seen in more than a year as the number [of violence-related deaths] stood at 290 while in September 2006 the number was about 1,400," Adel Muhsin, the health ministry's inspector-general, told IRIN in a phone interview.
According to the ministry's statistics, between January and the end of September 2007, the number of violent deaths involving civilian, police and military in all of Iraq was about 7,100, against 27,000 in the same period of 2006.
According to Muhsin, the average number of dead bodies sent to Baghdad's main morgue just over a year ago was between 100 and 150 a day. Now, it is no more than 10 bodies a day, and about 50 percent of them are dying in normal circumstances.
There have been days this year when no dead bodies were sent to the morgue and this gave the morgue employees a chance to refurbish it, something they couldn't do in the past.
"There have been days this year when no dead bodies were sent to the morgue and this gave the morgue employees a chance to refurbish it, something they couldn't do in the past," Muhsin added.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon recently said that September witnessed the lowest number of Iraqi casualties in any month this year. He added that there had been a decease in violence in general due to a cessation of attacks by the Mahdi Army, led by Shia religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who in August ordered a temporary freeze of his followers' activities, including attacks on US troops.
As a result, Ban said he had strengthened the UN team in Iraq by increasing staff in Baghdad and Erbil from 65 to 85 and was considering the establishment of a small UN presence in Basra.
US troops on patrol in Sadr City, Baghdad
Some time after Operation Imposing Law was launched by US and Iraqi forces on 14 February this year, the number of those thought to be victims of Shia death squads began dropping dramatically in Baghdad, and there has also been a lull in violent attacks by Sunni insurgents.
"But that doesn't mean that their attacks have ended, but they have been reduced and have become less effective as we have managed to arrest their senior leaders and disband many vital cells," a senior police officer said on condition of anonymity as he fears reprisals.
"And as a result of that, the number of car bomb attacks has been reduced from between eight and 15 a day to one and three and sometimes none. The same is true of roadside bomb attacks and assassinations," he added.
Some return to normalcy
Naji Mohammed Adel (not his real name), 22, has reopened his music store in eastern Baghdad nearly two years after al-Sadr followers went to his shop and left a threatening letter asking him to shut it down because it contravened their perception of Islamic law.
Now I can open my store for about six to eight hours a day and clients are showing up every day to buy the latest music.
"Now I can open my store for about six to eight hours a day and clients are showing up every day to buy the latest music," said Adel from Mashtal, which, like other parts of eastern Baghdad, was controlled by the Mahdi Army.
W.N., a 33-year-old female hairdresser who has a salon in a western neighbourhood of the capital, is now serving clients again after extremists had previously threatened to "have her head chopped off" if she stayed in this "sinful" business.
"Clients are trickling in but not like before," she said." We are open for about three to five hours during the day as there is a nearby Iraqi army check point."
Taxi driver Ahmed Khalil Baqir used to station himself outside Baghdad's main morgue, waiting for grieving families who went there to claim their relatives' dead bodies.
"I was totally dependent on them for my living," Baqir, a 44-year-old father of four, said." I never thought about picking up people in the street as I was being hired five to eight times a day by these families. But now it is a waste of time to wait there and these days I wait only for about three hours in the morning and I continue my work picking up passengers in the street."