But his announcement coincides with figures showing November has been the deadliest month for US troops since the war began. 

Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez said on Saturday anti-American fighters had struck fewer times in the past seven days than in the previous week and put the reduction down to the more aggressive tactics by US forces. 

"In the past 14 days, we have seen the daily average of engagements throughout the country decline by over 30%," Sanchez said in Baghdad. 

"And over the last seven-day period, we are down to an average of 22 engagements a day," he said, against as many as 50 a day just a couple of weeks ago. "This decline has been most significant where we have taken the fight to the enemy." 

The deadliest month

Despite the decline in attacks, however, figures from US military officials show at least 72 US soldiers have died in action in November, according to a count by Reuters. 

At least 185 US soldiers have died
in combat since on 1 May

At least four others have died in non-hostile circumstances, making November the deadliest month for US forces since the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein was launched on 20 March. 

Since Washington declared major combat over on 1 May, 185 US soldiers have been killed in action, bringing the total US military deaths - combat and non-combat - since the start of the war to 436, according to the Pentagon. 
 
Attacks on US forces may be down, but armed fighters have
begun targeting Iraqis much more aggressively, particularly
police and others seen to be cooperating or working with the
Americans. Bomb blasts at two police stations north of Baghdad
earlier this month killed 17 Iraqis and wounded several dozen. 

Dying hope

Those attacks have exacerbated fears among ordinary Iraqis that security conditions in their country have still not improved nearly eight months after Saddam was overthrown. 

"Take a look at Baghdad, not one building destroyed in the war has been rebuilt. If you didn't know, you'd think the Americans invaded last week"

Suzanne Karim,
shop assistant

At the same time, they complain basic services like electricity are not working reliably, petrol for vehicles is scarce and jobs are very few and far between in a country that once had fairly low unemployment, including amongst women. 

"Take a look at Baghdad, not one building destroyed in the
war has been rebuilt. If you didn't know, you'd think the
Americans invaded last week," said Suzanne Karim, 33, a shop
assistant in the Iraqi capital. "We had hope before, but now
it is dying."