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One-Day Iraq Toll Is Highest for U.S. In Many Months

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, October 19, 2006

BAGHDAD, Oct. 18 -- A roadside bombing and other attacks killed 10 American troops across Iraq on Tuesday, the U.S. military reported Wednesday, making it the deadliest day of combat for U.S. forces in 10 months.

The one-day toll, part of what the U.S. military has said is a 43 percent increase in attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces in the capital since midsummer, occurred as casualties among Iraqi troops and civilians are soaring far higher than at any previous time in the war, according to U.S. and Iraqi tallies.

The deaths underscore the surging nature of sectarian violence and the increasing lethality of roadside bombs, which claim the most American lives in Iraq despite efforts to bolster armor and use high-technology devices to disable bombs.

Five of the American troop deaths Tuesday were caused by bombs. Four soldiers were killed in Baghdad about 6:50 a.m. when a planted bomb exploded under their vehicle, the U.S. military said in a statement. Another bomb killed a single soldier north of the capital.

Three soldiers died in combat east of Baghdad, in Diyala province, the military said. One soldier was killed in north Baghdad when armed men attacked his patrol, and a Marine died in combat in the predominantly Sunni province of Anbar, in western Iraq. Since the summer, Baghdad has surpassed Anbar as the most hostile place in the country for U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Tuesday's deaths, along with the death of an American soldier in Baghdad by small-arms fire on Wednesday, brought the number of total U.S. troop fatalities for October to 70, including 67 killed in action.

One hundred and twenty-five American troops were killed in action in November 2004, and 126 were killed in action in April 2004, during U.S. offensives in Najaf and Fallujah.

The Iraqi victims of violence on Wednesday included 30 men whose bodies were found dumped around Baghdad after they had been blindfolded, cuffed and shot, the Interior Ministry said. Ministry officials said most had also been tortured, which often involves puncturing victims' skulls, torsos and limbs with electric drills. The victims were all under 30, the ministry said.

The deaths reported by officials and published in the news media represent only a fraction of the thousands of mutilated bodies winding up in Baghdad's overcrowded morgue each month. U.S. and morgue officials say 90 percent of the killings are now carried out execution-style, with repeated shots to the head and body, usually after the victim had been kidnapped and tortured.

Most bodies are found dumped on Baghdad's streets each morning after a night of curfew, when only government security forces are supposed to be out.

Bodies are increasingly being dumped in and around Baghdad in fields staked out by individual Shiite militias and Sunni insurgent groups. Iraqi security forces often refuse to go to the dumping grounds, leaving the precise number of bodies in those sites unknown.

Civilian deaths, unlike those of American troops, often go unrecorded. No count exists of all the civilians killed in the spiraling violence since U.S.-led forces entered Iraq. President Bush earlier this year put the number at 30,000 but gave no sources. Indices drawing only on the deaths reported by news organizations put the figure closer to 50,000.

A study published last week in the Lancet medical journal in Britain estimated the true toll was 655,000. Researchers derived their figure from surveys of Iraqis, who were asked to show death certificates to verify deaths in their families caused by the war. The methodology of that survey has been challenged.

U.S. Defense Department statistics show average daily Iraqi troop casualties jumped to 120 in the three months ending September, up from 80 in the previous quarter.

In September, 2,667 Iraqis were killed in Baghdad alone; the government has yet to release last month's figures for all of Iraq.

U.S. officials sought Wednesday to bolster support for the war.

"It will be long, and it will be hard. I wish it were otherwise," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a speech at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. "Certainly, seeing the violence on television is a temptation for people to wonder: How will it end?"

"There are those who say, Well, it is somebody else's problem," he said. But he voiced confidence that "the wave of violence" in Iraq will ultimately be defeated, saying Iraqi security forces are growing more capable.

Rumsfeld described a recent meeting at Bethesda Navy hospital with a wounded Marine who had served in Iraq as an embedded trainer with the Iraqi military. "If the American people will just give us time," he quoted the Marine as saying.

Asked whether the 10 deaths Tuesday would make Bush reconsider his plans for Iraq, White House spokesman Tony Snow said, "No, his plan is to win."

"The president understands not only the difficulty of it, but he grieves for the people who have served with valor," Snow said in Washington. "But as everybody says correctly, we've got to win. And that comes at a cost."

Some U.S. military leaders in Iraq have said they are puzzled by the rise in violence since midsummer. Military spokesmen attribute the most recent climb to a typical increase in attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and say they expect the toll to drop when Ramadan ends in coming days.

"It's a dangerous place, and we're trying to mitigate the risk," Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who heads a government led by Shiite religious parties, traveled to Najaf on Wednesday to seek consensus with two of the country's most influential Shiite leaders about quelling the skyrocketing sectarian violence.

"I came so that the security and political situation can be stabilized, allowing the government to turn its attention to reconstruction," Maliki told reporters between meetings with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who commands one of the country's most powerful political blocs and militias.

At Maliki's request, the U.S. military freed a Sadr official in Baghdad whom it had held overnight, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for Maliki, said the official was innocent. Aides said the official was a Sadr office manager in the heavily Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Shoula.

Maliki has blocked U.S. military moves toward a crackdown on Sadr's militia as a whole. "The issue of militias should be solved politically,'' Dabbagh said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson in Washington and special correspondents Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.

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