Iraq’s death toll from violence in 2011 fell sharply from previous years, figures showed on Sunday, as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called for the country to kick-start rebuilding with US troops gone.
The premier’s remarks came with the country mired in a political standoff between the Shiite-led government and a key Sunni-backed bloc that has raised sectarian tensions.
A total of 2,645 people were killed as a result of violence last year, according to an AFP tally of monthly figures released by the ministries of health, interior and defence, with December 2011 marking one of the lowest monthly tolls since the 2003 US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
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 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 month also marked the end of the US military presence in Iraq, with a total of 4,474 American soldiers having died in the country since the invasion, according to the US Defence 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 US embassy, charged with training their Iraqi counterparts.
Marking the conclusion of the pact that allowed them to stay, Maliki declared Saturday a national holiday, dubbed “Iraq Day”, and said the country’s days of dictatorship and one-party rule were behind it, even as rival politicians have accused him of centralising decision-making power.
“The coming period is no less important or dangerous than the previous stage,” Maliki said Sunday during a speech in Baghdad’s Al-Rasheed hotel, in the capital’s heavily-fortified Green Zone. “Our work has just begun.”
“Rebuilding will be more difficult because we inherited destroyed infrastructure and destroyed services. All of this will require effort, patience and integrity.”
“Victory has been achieved. It is now the beginning of long, difficult work, and we have to bear this responsibility. There are no American soldiers in Iraq anymore, but this is not the final goal,” he said.
“The question is, what will we offer after this achievement?”
Also on Sunday, helicopters flew over Baghdad distributing leaflets congratulating Iraqis on the “historic day” marking the US withdrawal. A day earlier, Iraqis received a mobile phone SMS from the premier carrying a similar message, as Maliki called for Iraqis to unify, declaring that Iraq had become “free, and you are the masters.”
US troops completed their withdrawal from Iraq on December 18, three years after Baghdad and Washington signed a deal which called for all US 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 US troops immunity from prosecution.
Maliki said on Saturday that Iraqis should “be totally confident that Iraq has rid itself forever of dictatorship and the rule of one party, one sect, and one ruler.”
His remarks came amid a festering political standoff, 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.