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Bombings, shootings kill 21 people
3 U.S. soldiers killed

BAGHDAD - Bombs and drive-by shootings killed at least 21 people across Baghdad and its northern belts Thursday, and the U.S. military announced the deaths of three more soldiers killed in combat in the country's north.

Five corpses were found in the capital - a low figure compared with the scores found daily several months ago. One body was found farther north and near the Iranian border, morgue officials said.

Thursday's tolls were in line with a trend borne out by Associated Press figures that show the number of Iraqi civilians who meet violent deaths fell sharply in October, as did the U.S. military death toll. The number of Iraqi civilians killed dropped from at least 1,023 in September to at least 905 in October, according to an AP count, and the number of American military deaths fell from 65 to at least 39 over the same period.

America's No. 2 military commander in Iraq said Thursday that over the past three months, there has also been a sharp decline in the number of EFPs, or explosively formed projectiles, found across the country.

EFPs fire a slug of molten copper capable of penetrating armored vehicles and so are more deadly than other roadside bombs. They are used largely by Shiite militias, and Washington blames Iran for their manufacture and distribution in Iraq. Iran denies the assertion.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters by videoconference from Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno said there were 30 EFP explosions in October and 23 more were found unexploded, for a total of 53. That compares with 99 in July, 78 in August and 52 in September, he said.

But Odierno said it was unclear whether the decline was attributable to the Iranians curtailing the flow of the weapons.

'It's unclear to me whether they have slowed down bringing in weapons and supporting the insurgency or not,' Odierno said. 'I'll still wait and see.'

Meanwhile, Iraqi and American forces captured some 118 suspected insurgents in two days of raids in central and northern Iraq. U.S. troops killed 14 suspects during the operations, the military said.

Iraqi forces killed 13 suspects, police said, after storming a suspected al-Qaida hide-out Thursday near Khalis, a town in Diyala province where the terror organization has a heavy presence.

It was the same area where Iraqi troops staged a successful raid Monday to free six hostages - Sunni and Shiite tribal sheiks who had joined a revolt against al-Qaida and who had been kidnapped by rogue Shiite militiamen some 30 hours earlier. A seventh sheik was killed during the capture.

On Thursday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of three American soldiers killed a day earlier. Two died in an explosion near their vehicle in Iraq's northern Ninevah province, the third was killed by a roadside bomb in Salahuddin province, also north of Baghdad. Two other soldiers were wounded in the Ninevah blast and evacuated to a U.S. combat hospital.

At least 3,845 of U.S. military personnel have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians.