By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 27, 2006; A01
BAGHDAD, Dec. 26 -- Seven more American service members have been killed in Iraq, the U.S. military reported Tuesday. It is the second deadliest month of the year for troops.
With five days left in December, 87 service members have died, according to figures provided by the military and news releases of combat deaths. The deadliest month this year was October, when attacks in Baghdad and the western Iraqi province of Anbar killed 105 U.S. troops.
The total number of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq war announced by the Pentagon is 2,961.
Military officials and analysts have attributed the rise in U.S. casualties in recent months to the larger number and greater visibility of American troops in Baghdad, plus the intensity of the Sunni insurgency in Anbar.
"We are continuing to conduct operations. We're doing that aggressively," said Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman. "We are fighting a tough war against a tough enemy, and unfortunately we take casualties."
As 2006 began, there was talk on Capitol Hill of withdrawing some U.S. troops by the end of the year. But rising sectarian violence in Baghdad forced President Bush to instead shift troops from other parts of Iraq to the capital, preventing a withdrawal. With no end to the violence, Bush ends the year with more than 140,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and faced with the decision of whether to send even more.
Although much of the focus of the war has shifted to Baghdad, analysts say the battle in Anbar remains just as intense.
"You have had to limit the number of troops deployed in Anbar and deploy more to Baghdad. This makes U.S. forces more vulnerable in Anbar because you're thinner on the ground," Anthony H. Cordesman, an analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said by phone in Washington. Insurgents have increased the number of attacks "faster than we've been able to make countermeasures effective."
Iraqi civilians have suffered the most casualties in the war. In the latest count available, the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq found that the number of civilians killed in Iraq reached a record monthly high of 3,709 in October.
On Tuesday, at least 54 civilians died in car bombings and mortar attacks in the capital and elsewhere, hospital officials told the Associated Press.
Three car bombs exploded simultaneously in Baghdad's mostly Shiite neighborhood of Bayaa, killing 10 people and wounding about 40, the U.S. military said. Abdul Kareem al-Kinani, a spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said there were 14 fatalities and 69 injuries.
A car bomb in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of New Baghdad killed six civilians and wounded nine others, according to an Interior Ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Sunnis were also targeted. In the Sunni enclave of Adhamiyah, a car bomb exploded near the Abu Hanifa mosque, killing at least 15 people and wounding 37, according to Iraqi TV reports. The bomb tore through markets and kebab stands during the late afternoon rush, according to Iraqi TV.
In the mixed southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, national policemen fought armed groups Tuesday evening, Kinani said. Several mortar rounds also fell on the outskirts of the neighborhood, he said.
Most of the U.S. casualties were also the result of bombs. On Monday, one soldier was killed and two wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol southwest of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. A roadside bomb killed two soldiers and wounded one southwest of Baghdad while they were conducting operations aimed at preventing insurgents from planting such explosives, the military said.
On Tuesday, a roadside bomb detonated near a patrol as it was clearing a route, killing three soldiers northwest of the capital. Another soldier was injured.
Also on Tuesday, a soldier was killed and two were injured when their vehicle rolled over along a dirt canal trail during a combat reconnaissance mission south of Baghdad.
Special correspondent Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad, staff researcher Robert E. Thomason in Washington and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.