Iraq’s death toll from violence in 2011 fell sharply from previous years, with nearly 1,000 fewer people being killed than in 2009 and 2010, official figures showed Sunday.
The latest data came a day after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared a national holiday dubbed “Iraq Day” to mark the end of a pact allowing U.S. forces to stay in the country, two weeks after they left and with Iraq mired in a political row.
A total of 2,645 people were killed last year as a result of violence, with December 2011 marking one of the lowest monthly tolls since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, according to an AFP tally of monthly figures released by the ministries of health, interior and defense.
The data showed that 1,578 civilians were killed in attacks last year, along with 609 policemen and 458 soldiers.
Overall, 4,413 Iraqis were wounded in the violence, the figures showed.
The death toll represents a marked decline from previous years ─ a total of 3,605 were killed in 2010, and 3,481 in 2009 ─ and is sharply lower than when a brutal sectarian war engulfed Iraq in 2006 and 2007.
In 2007 alone, official figures show that 17,956 people died as a result of violence.
December 2011 also saw one of the lowest monthly death tolls since 2003, with 155 Iraqis killed overall ─ 90 civilians, 36 policemen and 29 soldiers, the figures showed.
Last year marked the end of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, with a total of 4,474 American soldiers having died in the country since the invasion, according to the U.S. Defense Department.
In a country where there were once nearly 170,000 troops and as many as 505 bases, just 157 soldiers remain under the authority of the U.S. embassy, charged with training their Iraqi counterparts.
To mark the conclusion of the pact that allowed them to stay, Maliki called on Saturday for Iraqis to unite, and said the country’s days of dictatorship and one-party rule were behind it, even as rival politicians have accused him of centralizing decision-making power.
Speaking at a ceremony attended by several ministers and top security officials at the Al-Shaab stadium complex in central Baghdad, Maliki said December 31 was “a feast for all Iraqis” and marked “the day Iraq became sovereign”.
“I announce today, the 31st of December, which witnessed the completion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces, to be a national day,” he said. “We call it Iraq Day.”
“Today, you are raising the Iraqi flag across the nation, and unifying under that flag. Today, Iraq becomes free and you are the masters.”
U.S. troops completed their withdrawal from Iraq on December 18.
In 2008, Baghdad and Washington signed a deal which called for all U.S. soldiers to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
Efforts to keep a significant American military training mission beyond year-end fell through when the two sides failed to agree on a deal to guarantee U.S. troops immunity from prosecution.
The Iraqi premier also told his countrymen that they should “be totally confident that Iraq has rid itself forever of dictatorship and the rule of one party, one sect, and one ruler.”
Maliki’s remarks came amid a festering political standoff in Iraq, with authorities having charged Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi with running a death squad and Maliki calling for Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak to be fired.
Mutlak and Hashemi’s Sunni-backed Iraqiya party have boycotted parliament and cabinet meetings. Hashemi, who is holed up in the autonomous Kurdish region, rejects the accusations, while Mutlak has decried the Shiite-led government as a dictatorship.
The support of Iraqiya ─ which narrowly won a 2010 poll and garnered most of its seats in Sunni areas, is seen as vital to preventing a resurgence of violence.
The Sunni Arab minority dominated Saddam’s regime and was the bedrock of the anti-U.S. insurgency after the 2003 invasion.