BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. troop casualty figures in Iraq that jumped this spring have been gradually dropping because U.S. and Iraqi forces are stabilizing volatile and dangerous areas, a U.S. commander said Thursday.
Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commanding general of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq, called the development in recent weeks "an initial positive sign."
"This is what we thought would happen once we get control of the real key areas that are controlled by these terrorists," Odierno said at a press conference.
At the same time, he said, "I need a bit more time to make an assessment of whether it's a true trend or not."
So far in July, 62 U.S. troops have died, according to Pentagon figures compiled by CNN.
If that pace continues, July will have the lowest monthly death toll this year, a period in which U.S. troop strength has escalated and U.S.-led offensives have been launched in Baghdad and in regions around the capital.
The previous three months were the deadliest three-month stretch in the war, with 104 deaths in April, 126 in May and 101 in June. There were 83 deaths in January and 81 each in February and March.
Odierno said troops went into regions they "had not been in for a long time and they were safe havens that had been established by extremists."
"We've now gone into those areas with Iraqi security forces and going into these areas we knew would be tough in the beginning,. We've now taken control of these areas. Since then, we've now started to see a slow, gradual reduction in casualties. And it continues in July."
Odierno, who briefed reporters with Iraqi military commander Lt. Gen. Abud Qanbar, also reiterated U.S. claims that militants in Iraq are getting help from elements in Iran.
"We have seen in the last three months a significant improvement in the capability of mortar men and rocketeers to provide accurate fires into the Green Zone and other places. We think this is directly related to training that was conducted in Iran," Odierno said. E-mail to a friend
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