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Originally published Saturday, December 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Soldier deaths down in Iraq

The U.S. military said Friday that two American soldiers had died in separate incidents, but despite the latest deaths, December was shaping...

Los Angeles Times

Iraq developments

Marine sentenced:

A military jury Friday sentenced U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Delano Holmes to a bad-conduct discharge but no jail time in the stabbing death of an Iraqi soldier. Holmes, 22, a reservist, could have gotten eight years in prison and a dishonorable discharge after being convicted on Thursday of negligent homicide and lying to superiors. The military jury found Holmes not guilty of unpremeditated murder in the death of Iraqi Pvt. Munther Jasem Muhammed Hassin while they shared sentry duty in downtown Fallujah, west of Baghdad, on New Year's Eve 2006. Holmes claimed Hassin was trying to signal insurgents by lighting a cigarette and using a lighted cellphone.

Oil report:

Iraqi oil output has risen in a "dramatic" way in recent months, hitting its highest monthly level in about 3 ½ years in November, the International Energy Agency said Friday. The Paris-based agency reported that Iraqi production rose to 2.32 million barrels per month in November, a slight increase from October and up from 1.9 million barrels per month in January. The increase in output resulted largely from "more regular" pipeline crude shipments from fields around the northern city of Kirkuk to Ceyhan in Turkey. Since the war began, key pipelines have been bombed and political leaders have failed to agree on a formula for sharing Iraq's oil wealth among its divided communities.

Seattle Times news services

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military said Friday that two American soldiers had died in separate incidents, but despite the latest deaths, December was shaping up to be the safest month for U.S. forces in Iraq since 2004.

The military gave few details of the most recent casualties. Both occurred Thursday. One soldier died of wounds suffered when a bomb exploded during a foot patrol; another was killed by gunfire in the capital, the U.S. military said.

In the first two weeks of November, 23 American forces had been killed, compared with 10 in December, according to the Department of Defense. If the current pace of less than one death per day is maintained, December could be the least deadly month since February 2004, when 20 U.S. troops died.

As of Friday, at least 3,891 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war.

U.S. officials attribute the downward trend in deaths to security gains resulting from Iraqis' rejection of insurgents and to increased troop strength resulting from the addition of 28,500 American forces sent to Iraq earlier in 2007.

These factors also have led to a drop in bombings and other attacks on civilians, say Iraqi and American officials.

Nevertheless, the country remains far from calm. Shiite Muslim clergymen used Friday prayers to condemn bombings in the southern city of Amarah that killed 28 people.

In the Shiite stronghold of Sadr Cty in northeastern Baghdad, Sheik Suhail Aqabi said the blasts in normally quiet Amarah were aimed at provoking violence so that security forces would have an excuse to crack down on the Shiite city.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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