By Sudarsan Raghavan and Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
BAGHDAD, April 30 -- The deaths of more than 100 American troops in April made it the deadliest month so far this year for U.S. forces in Iraq, underscoring the growing exposure of Americans as thousands of reinforcements arrive for an 11-week-old offensive to tame sectarian violence.
More than 60 Iraqis also were killed or found dead across Iraq on Monday. Casualties among Iraqi civilians and security forces have outstripped those of Americans throughout the war. In March, a total of 2,762 Iraqi civilians and policemen were killed, down 4 percent from the previous month, when 2,864 were killed. Iraq's government has yet to release any monthly totals for April.
Attacks killed a total of nine U.S. troops over the weekend, including five whose deaths were announced Monday. The weekend's fatalities brought the toll for the month to 104 Americans killed, in the sixth most-lethal month for American forces since the U.S.-led invasion four years ago.
Under the new counterinsurgency plan, many U.S. forces have left large, more secure bases to live in small combat outposts and to patrol hostile neighborhoods where the risk of insurgents targeting them has multiplied.
Highlighting the vulnerability of American forces, a series of explosions Monday night rocked Baghdad's Green Zone, the most heavily secured enclave in the capital and home to thousands of U.S. troops, Western diplomats and Iraqi government officials.
"There is a duck-and-cover going on right now," said Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman, before quickly getting off the phone. Later, Garver confirmed there had been an assault on the Green Zone, but it was unclear what had happened. Local Iraqi television stations reported 10 explosions inside the zone. There were no immediate reports of casualties, Garver said.
In eastern Baghdad on Sunday, a roadside bomb killed three U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter who were on patrol, the military said. Attackers shot dead another soldier in the same section of the capital on Saturday. Meanwhile, a Marine was killed in the Sunni insurgent bastion of Anbar province, west of Baghdad. On Saturday, the military reported four U.S. soldiers had been killed on that day.
Before the deaths announced Monday, 99 U.S. soldiers had been killed during April, according to iCasualties.org, an independent Web site that monitors military deaths. Nearly half have died in and around Baghdad, with the next greatest number of deaths occurring in Anbar and Diyala provinces. In December, 112 U.S. soldiers were killed.
With 11 combat deaths, April also was the deadliest month for British troops in Iraq since the beginning of the war, when 27 soldiers were killed in March 2003. This month's British casualties highlighted the growing tensions in southern Iraq as Shiite groups clash for power and Britain prepares to draw down its forces.
The deaths came as the largest bloc of Sunnis in Iraq's parliament, the Iraqi Accordance Front, threatened to pull out its ministers from the cabinet, saying that it "had lost hope" in having Sunni concerns addressed by the Shiite-led government. The threat prompted President Bush to phone one of Iraq's two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, in an attempt to defuse the potential political crisis, Hashimi's office said in a statement. A Sunni withdrawal could seriously hamper efforts at national reconciliation and further weaken the government. Only two weeks ago, six cabinet ministers loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr resigned from the cabinet.
In the province of Diyala, where scores of fighters have fled to escape the Baghdad security offensive, a car bomb exploded near a funeral tent in the town of Khalis, killing 22 and wounding 35, said Lt. Mohammed Hakman of the Diyala police Joint Coordination Center. Police said they expected the toll to rise.
The strike came four days after a suicide attacker detonated a car packed with bombs at a checkpoint in the town, 50 miles north of Baghdad, killing 10 Iraqi soldiers.
Near the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, a car bomb exploded at a police checkpoint, killing four policemen and injuring six others, police said. In another attack near Ramadi, a truck exploded near a restaurant, killing four civilians, police said.
In Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in the al-Jihad neighborhood, killing four and wounding another seven, all civilians, while another car bomb detonated in a local market, killing five and wounding nine civilians. In the Shaab neighborhood, mortar shells rained down on a house, killing three and injuring eight, police said.
Meanwhile, police found 13 corpses -- all blindfolded, handcuffed and shot in the head -- in different parts of the capital.
On Monday, U.S. troops at Camp Victory, a sprawling base near Baghdad International Airport, reflected on April's deadly toll on their comrades.
Sitting at a picnic table outside a recreation center, four soldiers smoked Marlboros under a starry sky. Part of the Headquarters Headquarters Support Company for the 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Ga., they had arrived last month. They were on the base, just "sweeping parking lots and waiting for a sandstorm," as Pfc. Richard Gonzalez, 22, put it.
Still, they said, frequent news of troop deaths made even their mission more frightening.
"It makes me feel depressed to be in Iraq right now," said Gonzalez, who is on his second deployment. "It's a whole lot different than last time."
Now, he said, soldiers at the base must carry weapons. Return addresses on letters from home must be ripped off and burned, so as not to fall into the wrong hands. On his first deployment, eight months passed before his Baghdad base was hit by mortar fire. This time, he said, it seems the Camp Victory intercom announces incoming fire every day.
"There's a whole lot more activity," said Spec. Krystal Fowler, 21, of Hampton, Va. She said it "kind of bothers" her to know other troops are taking hits in the field and she can't help.
Spec. Natisha Jetter, 23, of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands, agreed.
"Our fellow soldiers are out there dying, and we're here not doing our job," Jetter said.
Gonzalez said the deaths made him realize that "there's a war going on out there."
Fowler sighed. It's a war between Iraqis, she said.
"We are just interfering, and letting our soldiers die."
"I'd rather be out there helping people survive," Fowler said. "The more of us that are out there, the more chances they have to survive."
There was a pause, as the soldiers mulled that.
"It's just terrifying, because you can drive the same road for eight months, and then one day it's over," Gonzalez said.
"Over," Fowler echoed.
Special correspondents Saad-al-Izzi, Waleed Saffar and Washington Post staff in Baqubah and Ramadi contributed to this report.