Five Soldiers Die in Attack On U.S. Patrol In Baghdad

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 11, 2008

BAGHDAD, March 10 -- The U.S. soldiers parked their Humvees and stepped out into the warm sun and swirl of people. They stood before the glass storefronts on the main thoroughfare of what was once Baghdad's most elegant neighborhood.

The customers strolling past the open businesses in Mansour -- the Babit gift shop, the Al Jadurchi computer compound -- created the pleasantly mundane scene that American soldiers have tried so hard to cultivate in a capital battered by war.

About 3 p.m. Monday, that vision dissolved again into violence. A man wearing a vest laden with explosives blew himself up amid the U.S. patrol, killing five soldiers and wounding three others in the deadliest day for Americans in Baghdad in six months.

The bombing, which blasted out the windows of the four-story buildings around the al-Rawad intersection of Mansour street, also injured an Iraqi interpreter and four Iraqi civilians, according to U.S. military officials. An official in the Interior Ministry said two Iraqi bystanders were also killed.

"I guess it will never end," said one U.S. soldier in Baghdad, as news spread through the ranks about the deaths. "Such evil."

The bombing, which U.S. soldiers attributed to the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, was the deadliest single attack on U.S. troops in Iraq since Jan. 28, when five soldiers were killed in a bomb and gunfire ambush in the northern city of Mosul. But there has not been such a deadly day in Baghdad for U.S. troops since Sept. 10, when eight soldiers were killed.

The number of American fatalities in Iraq has declined over the past five months to some of the lowest levels of the war. But the single greatest killer of U.S. troops in Iraq remains the makeshift bombs, placed by the roadside or carried by people, that are used to target soldiers on foot and in their vehicles.

Before Monday's attack, of the 165 U.S. troops killed since Nov. 1, 91 were victims of "improvised explosive devices," a number that includes suicide-vest attacks, according to Pentagon data compiled by The Washington Post. The next deadliest tactic was gunfire, which killed 24 soldiers.

Since early 2006, the percentage of Americans killed by IEDs has ranged between 40 and 60 percent, after reaching a high of 80 percent of all combat deaths in September 2005.

A senior U.S. military official said there had been a recent spike in attacks by people using suicide vests. The tactic is often associated with insurgent fighters who come from outside Iraq to fight, but this appears to be changing.

"Usually if you wear a suicide vest you're a foreigner," the official said. "More and more Iraqis are wearing them."

The attack Monday was a dispiriting blow for U.S. soldiers in Baghdad, whose commanders have expressed cautious optimism as the level of violence has fallen since the middle of last year.

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