ARLINGTON, Va. — February was the best month U.S. forces in Iraq have had in a while, with just 58 U.S. troops killed, the fewest in a single month since last July, when 54 died.

Still, the U.S. death toll in Iraq surpassed 1,500 on Thursday, even though violence has fallen to pre-election levels, according to defense officials.

“Iraq is still a very dangerous place,” said Lt. Col. Barry Venable. “There are still various enemy forces that are determined to disrupt the Iraqi march to independence.”

“That said,” Venable added, “it appears the overall level of attacks has gone down to the levels they were prior to the pre-election and election period.”

November, December and January were among the most deadly months for U.S. troops since the United States attacked Iraq in March 2003.

Those three months represented an unusual spike, and were “anomalies” rather than the leading edge of an upward trend, Venable said.

“In November, there was [the fight in] Fallujah, and December and January were the run-ups to elections,” Venable said. “Then on election day, [the insurgents] threw everything they had at us.”

U.S. troops were being attacked with improvised explosive devices, mortars and gunfire at a rate upwards of 100 incidents per day in the late months of 2004 and in January, a defense official with knowledge of internal unit records told Stars and Stripes.

Before that time, there were about 50 attacks on coalition personnel each day, said the official, who asked not to be named because he is not responsible for releasing such data.

Now the attacks are back down to about 50 per day, the official said.

Moreover, “we’re finding that the attacks against coalition forces are less effective,” the official said.

U.S. troops are growing particularly adapt at locating IEDs “before they go boom,” the official said, crediting “better training, better [detection] equipment, and better recognition” for that success.

Insurgents are also continuing to focus their most deadly attacks against Iraqis, particularly the new Iraqi police and military forces, which are still finding their feet, Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

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