The US military claimed an advantage in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq on Thursday, saying an increase in raids since the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has left the terror network disoriented and forced many foreign fighters out into the open.
At least 46 violent deaths were reported across the country, including nine bullet-riddled bodies that were pulled from rivers - apparent victims of sectarian death squads.
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the spokesman for US forces in Iraqi, acknowledged that Iraqi civilians were suffering most from the insurgency, accounting for 70 percent of all casualties on a daily basis, while he said the number of US forces did not appear to be on the rise.
Civilians "are the ones who are taking the brunt of this insurgent activity," he said. "It has not been predominantly against the coalition forces or the Iraqi security forces."
But, he said, the Americans had gained the momentum in its fight against al-Qaida in Iraq after killing its leader and had devoted a lot of resources to targeting his successor Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
"There is no question, if we can take him down, that will just disrupt the organization ... to the point where it would be ineffective for a long period of time," he said. "It is very disorganized right now. And it is very disrupted right now."
He said coalition and Iraqi security forces had captured or killed 57 foreign fighters this month.