U.S. Military Death Toll In Iraq Rises Above 100 For April
Monday, April 30th 2007, 7:13 am
News On 6
BAGHDAD (AP) _ Five U.S. troops died in weekend attacks, pushing the death toll past 100 in the deadliest month for American forces since December, the military said Monday as a wave of violence battered Iraqi civilians including a suicide bombing at a Shiite funeral.
The attack against the mourners north of Baghdad _ claiming more than 30 lives _ was the deadliest in a series of bombings and shootings that killed at least 102 people nationwide.
The rising toll for U.S. soldiers also pointed to a potentially deadly trend: More troops exposed to more dangers as they try to reclaim control of Baghdad.
All but one of the latest U.S. deaths occurred in Iraq's capital, where a nearly 11-week security crackdown has put thousands of additional American soldiers on the streets _ making them targets for both Shiite and Sunni extremists.
After sunset, thunderous explosions rocked central Baghdad _ apparently from rockets fired toward the U.S.-controlled Green Zone. Warning sirens sounded in the heavily protected district, and witnesses saw smoke rising from the area. The U.S. military said it had no immediate information about damage or casualties.
The rockets appeared to come from a part of eastern Baghdad where Shiite militiamen operate. But the barrage suggested that Shiite gangs could be regrouping after falling back when the Baghdad security sweeps got under way.
In a statement Monday, the U.S. command said three American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were killed by a roadside bomb the day before in eastern Baghdad. Another U.S. soldier was killed Saturday by small arms fire in the same area, the statement said.
A Marine died in combat Sunday in Anbar province, a Sunni insurgent stronghold west of the capital, the military said.
The deaths brought the number of American service members killed in Iraq during April to 104 _ eight fewer than December's toll of 112 and the sixth-highest figure for a single month since the war started in March 2003.
Last week, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, warned in Washington that ``there is the very real possibility'' of intense combat in the coming months and ``therefore, there could be more casualties.''
President Bush has committed some 30,000 extra American troops to the security operation in Baghdad, but he is facing legislation by the Democratic-led Congress calling for U.S. troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq by Oct. 1. Bush has promised to veto the measure.
While American casualties are rising, U.S. officials say the Baghdad crackdown has reduced civilian deaths in the capital since the security operation was launched Feb. 14.
But figures compiled by The Associated Press from police reports show a rise in civilian casualties outside the capital, where extremists to refuge to avoid the Baghdad operation.
Police said 32 people were killed and 63 wounded when a suicide bomber struck the Shiite funeral in Khalis, about 50 miles north of Baghdad. The bomber walked into a tent filled with mourners and detonated a belt of explosives hidden beneath his clothes, police said.
Attacks on funeral gatherings are not uncommon. Suicide attacks are the hallmark of Sunni religious extremists, notably al-Qaida in Iraq.
``I saw panicked people running from outside the tent,'' said a mobile telephone dealer who was talking toward the tent when the bomber struck. ``It was the most horrible scene I ever witnessed. I was shocked that somebody could commit this crime against people who were honoring a dead person.''
The witness, who refused to give his name out of fears for his safety, said the bomber timed the attack for early evening, when large numbers of mourners usually arrive for food provided by the family of the deceased.
Officials said the funeral was for a Shiite man who died of natural causes, but has about 20 relatives in the army and police. Four days ago, a suicide car bomber killed 10 Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint in Khalis, a mostly Shiite town in a predominantly Sunni area. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility.
Elsewhere, a tanker truck exploded near a restaurant just west of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, killing four people and wounding six, police said.
The attack occurred in an area where U.S.-backed Sunni sheiks and tribal leaders have begun turning against al-Qaida, forming the Anbar Salvation Council to drive religious extremists and foreign fighters from their area.
That has helped curb violence in Ramadi, once the most dangerous city in Iraq, but has triggered clashes for control of the vast desert area that borders Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
In a Web posting Monday, an al-Qaida front organization _ the Islamic State in Iraq _ announced it was preparing a ``long-term war of attrition'' in Anbar against the Americans and the U.S.-backed Sunni sheiks.
``The Marines do not confront the militants face-to-face, but they hide behind thieves and highway robbers,'' the group said, referring to the tribal alliance. ``The mujahedeen are ongoing in their fights against the enemies of God.''
At least 66 other people were killed or found dead nationwide Monday, police reported. They included 27 bullet-riddled bodies found in Baghdad, apparent victims of sectarian death squads.
On Sunday, Iran agreed to join the U.S. and other countries at a conference on Iraq this week, raising hopes the government in Tehran would help stabilize its neighbor and stem the flow of guns and bombs which the U.S. says the Iranians are sending to Shiite militias.
A senior Iranian envoy, Ali Larijani, flew to Baghdad on Sunday for talks with Iraqi leaders ahead of this week's meetings in Egypt _ the highest-ranking Iranian official to visit Iraq since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.
Larijani met Monday with Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and offered Iranian support for the Iraqi government, saying ``we see that Iraq's territories and unity must be preserved.''
As a direct envoy from Iran's ruling clerics, Larijani is considered more influential than Iranian Cabinet ministers who have visited Iraq since the fall of Saddam. Larijani also represents Iran's theocracy in other highly sensitive talks, including Iran's nuclear dispute with the West.
Afterward, Iraqi officials expressed hope that the meeting in Egypt might produce an agreement to work to stabilize the country.
``It is true that it aims to help the Iraqi government in improving security and stability, but it also has regional and international dimensions. It is in Iraq's interest that the atmosphere be good,'' Zebari said.
But in closed-door talks Sunday with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Larijani bluntly told the Iraqis that the U.S. military presence poses ``a serious danger to us'' and ``for that reason we are forced to deal with it.''
``Iraq now is part of this danger,'' Larijani said, according to a senior Iraqi official familiar with the discussions. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about confidential talks.