More U.S. Troops Dying in Anbar Province

The Associated Press
Saturday, November 25, 2006; 7:37 AM

WASHINGTON -- In the three months since thousands of U.S. forces poured into Baghdad to quash escalating violence, far more American troops have died in the volatile western Anbar province than in the capital city.

More than two-thirds of the 245 U.S. casualties between Aug. 7, the start of the Baghdad offensive, and Nov. 7 occurred outside Baghdad _ which military leaders have called the "center of gravity" of Iraq, and the key to success in the war. Four in 10 deaths over those three months have been in Anbar province, a Sunni insurgency stronghold where U.S. Marines have largely taken the lead.

Marines, who comprise only about 15 percent of the 141,000 U.S. forces currently in Iraq, accounted for nearly 28 percent of the fatalities over the three-month period.

The Baghdad assault, dubbed Operation Together Forward, started slowly in June. It escalated in early August when about 7,200 additional U.S. troops, including an agile Stryker brigade, were brought into enforce a broad array of checkpoints, curfews and house-to-house searches.

As total U.S. war casualties mounted through this summer and into the fall _ from a total of about 2,500 by mid-June to more than 2,870 now _ military officials blamed the rise on the Baghdad offensive, as well as the holy observance of Ramadan. The escalating violence made October the fourth deadliest month since the war began.

"Baghdad is the center of gravity for Iraq. We must get it right in Baghdad," Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the time. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld added, "Most of the violence occurs within 30 kilometers of Baghdad."

In terms of actual U.S. casualties, the opposite was true.

Most of the 245 deaths during the first three months of Operation Together Forward occurred beyond Baghdad's boundaries. According to an analysis by The Associated Press, there were 73 casualties in Baghdad between Aug. 7 and Nov. 7, while there were 103 in Anbar.

In comparison, during the first three months of 2006, there were 148 U.S. military deaths in Iraq _ nearly 100 fewer than the August-November timeframe.

The death count in Anbar, combined with the deadly spike in sectarian attacks in Baghdad this week, paints a picture of an Iraq still teetering on the brink of civil war, battered by religious divisions, al-Qaida terrorists and a stubborn and diverse insurgency.

The unabated violence comes as the Bush administration and the U.S. military are conducting several wide-ranging reviews of Iraq war policy under the critical eyes of Democrats who are poised to take control of both houses of Congress early next year. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, is expected to issue its report soon.

Little more than a week ago, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, acknowledged that the Sunni-dominated Anbar province was still not under control. Yet, military officials and Rumsfeld have often asserted that most of the violence in Iraq has been near Baghdad, and that the military effort must be centered there.

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