"You read every day about suicide bombings, kidnappings, rocket attacks and other terrible acts.

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"The chances of success [in Iraq] are essentially zero because the Iraqi people have no voice"

Non Sequitur, Cadiz, Spain

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"What we don't read about and what is new is a lot of the good news - the drop in the murders in Baghdad, the establishment of security outposts throughout the city ... the deployment of additional Iraqi brigades to Baghdad.

"These and other indicators are reasons for very cautious optimism about the effects of the new strategy," he said.

"I believe we have a new strategy that is making progress," he said, but added: "That is not to say things are well everywhere in Iraq. Far from it, we have a long way to go."

Despite the rising figures, Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president, still hailed progress in stemming the activities of the Mahdi Army and other factions.

"The Mahdi Army seems to be following the orders of brother Muqtada al-Sadr and there is no action on its part. This is a good gesture and there are no [Sunni Arab] complaints against them," Talabani told reporters on Saturday.
 
More US deaths

 

Detailed statistics collected by the defence, interior and health ministries show a significant increase in Iraqi civilian, army and police deaths in March, when more than 87 US military deaths were also recorded.

 

On Sunday, the US military said in a statement that six of its soldiers were killed in roadside bombings southwest of Baghdad over the weekend.

   

"The two soldiers were killed by an explosion during a patrol on Saturday. Four more were killed when another roadside bomb detonated on Sunday near a unit responding to the first attack," the statement read.

   

A US military spokeswoman said the first attack happened late on Saturday, and that the second unit had responded early on Sunday.

   

The statement did not say precisely where the attack took place, although it said the soldiers killed on Saturday were part of the force assigned to Baghdad.

 

Deadly month

 

An average of three more people died each day last month - 67 compared with 64 in February.

  

A total of 1,869 Iraqi bystanders died in March compared with 1,646 in February, far more than the losses of the Iraqi and US security forces combined.

 

In March, 165 Iraqi policemen were killed, compared with 131 the previous month, while 44 Iraqi soldiers died compared with 29 in February.

  

Despite the crackdown in Baghdad, Omar Abdul Sattar, a leading Sunni Arab member of parliament, was the target of an assassination attempt that wounded two of his bodyguards but left him unhurt on Sunday.

      

He was the second Sunni leader attacked in less than 10 days.  

 

Five more people, including three former members of Saddam Hussein's now outlawed Baath party, were killed in other attacks, while the British military said that one of its soldiers was wounded by "small arms fire" in the main southern city of Basra.