U.S. Deaths In Iraq Near Peak Months

By Ellen Knickmeyer and John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 27, 2006; 8:34 AM

BAGHDAD, Oct. 27 -- Unrelenting daily attacks in Baghdad and the western province of Anbar have made October the deadliest month of the Iraq war for U.S. troops in combat since the all-out American offensives on Fallujah in April and November of 2004, according to U.S. military figures. The military on Thursday reported five more American troops killed, raising the toll for U.S. deaths in hostile action so far this month to 92.

The latest reported U.S. deaths -- those of four Marines and a sailor -- occurred Wednesday in Anbar province, an insurgent stronghold. The increasing death toll in Anbar comes after months in which U.S. and Iraqi commanders had said that sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shiites was their prime concern and that Baghdad was the focus of their efforts.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, attributed the resurgence in American deaths in the western province to "very conscious and deliberate operations" in Ramadi, Anbar's capital.

"It's an aggressive, offensive approach to taking back the city of Ramadi, to return it back to Iraqi security forces," Caldwell said on Thursday.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling Sunni Arab insurgent groups in the heart of Ramadi on a daily basis since early this year, and Caldwell's words -- "taking back" -- reflected the degree to which guerrillas have asserted control over the city.

The insurgent groups include both foreign-led organizations such as al-Qaeda in Iraq and Iraqi resistance groups. U.S. officers said this past summer that they could claim sure control only over a few blocks immediately around Ramadi's town hall, as well as forward operating bases and other American outposts in the lawless city. U.S. troops, especially since summer, have moved more aggressively out into the city, pushing back against insurgents but also putting themselves at greater risk.

It was not clear whether Wednesday's killings were all in Ramadi, and the military gave no details about how they occurred. Local leaders in Ramadi reported that a series of planted bombs and suicide car bombs had targeted American forces around Anbar on Wednesday.

In 2004, thousands of American troops were involved in two concentrated offensives against Sunni Arab insurgents in Fallujah, and the toll in April of that year also included deaths in heavy fighting against forces of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in southern Iraq. The number of Americans killed in action that month was 126; in November 2004, 125.

In contrast, American deaths this month have come singly or in twos, threes or fours, mostly from roadside bombs and small-arms fire targeting patrols, checkpoints and other day-to-day operations.

Sources within the two militaries, as well as Iraqi militiamen and foreign fighters, cite many of the same reasons for the current increase in violence in Anbar.

After American warplanes killed al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June, his successor, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, called on followers to concentrate attacks on U.S. troops and Shiite militiamen, soldiers and police. In September, Masri urged every insurgent in Iraq to kill at least one American within 15 days.

The Egyptian-born Masri wanted redoubled attacks "to have a great effect on the American elections," said Abu Islam al-Arabi, a local al-Qaeda leader reached by telephone Thursday in Anbar province.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company