WASHINGTON — U.S. military casualties have surged in Iraq in recent weeks, with U.S. troops engaging in perilous urban sweeps to curb sectarian violence in Baghdad while facing unrelenting violence elsewhere.
At least 44 U.S. troops have been killed so far in October. At the current pace, the month would be the deadliest for U.S. forces since January 2005. After falling to 43 in July, the U.S. toll rose in August and September before spiking this month. The war’s average monthly U.S. death toll is 64.
The number of U.S. troops wounded in combat also has surged, with September’s total of more than 770 the highest since November 2004, when U.S. forces launched a ground offensive to clear insurgents from Fallujah.
Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, briefing in Baghdad on Thursday, attributed the rising casualties to insurgent violence that coincides with the current Islamic holy month of Ramadan, as well as more aggressive operations in Baghdad.
‘Worse before it gets better’
“We assume it will still get worse before it gets better. We expect violence to continue to increase over the next two weeks, until the end of Ramadan,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said the 15,000 U.S. troops in Baghdad are focusing their efforts in the sprawling capital on curbing death squads and others responsible for sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites that the U.S. commanders believe could lead to civil war if left unchecked.
“Each time you conduct operations like that, you put your soldiers at much greater risk,” Caldwell said.
Army Gen. George Casey, top U.S. commander in Iraq, said on Wednesday the level of violence over the past few weeks has been the highest of the war. There are 141,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
The Pentagon said 20,895 U.S. troops have been wounded in combat, many maimed by grievous blast wounds from insurgent roadside bombs, the leading cause of American casualties. At least 6,000 others have suffered wounds in accidents and other noncombat situations.
Brookings Institution analyst Michael O’Hanlon said there has been a gradual increase in overall violence since the first year of the war as the insurgency grew in strength and sophistication.
But spikes in violence, he said, have been driven primarily by U.S. actions like the current operation in Baghdad. On the current surge, O’Hanlon said: “We’re not winning and we may even be starting to lose. That’s what it should make you conclude.”
Iraqis killed in sectarian attacks
At least 33 people were killed Thursday in attacks, including 11 in an assault on a new Sunni-Arab television station in Baghdad, while authorities found the mutilated bodies of more likely victims of the sectarian death squads that roam the capital.
The raid on the southeastern Baghdad offices of Iraq's Shaabiya satellite station came at around 7 a.m. (12 a.m. ET), police Maj. Mahir Hamad said.
An unknown number of gunmen pulled up at the station in seven cars, stormed quickly into the offices and opened fire, then fled, station executive director Hassan Kamil told Associated Press Television News.
Kamil said 11 people had been killed, including technicians, two guards and the head of the station's board of directors.
"A group of armed men in seven cars stormed into the building and killed a group of our colleagues, including the head of the board of directors Abdel-Raheem Nasrallah," he said.
The station moved into the building in July and has not yet gone on the air, Kamil said.
Second attack on media
The motivation behind the attack was not immediately clear, but it was the second attack on a television station in the capital in as many weeks.
On Oct. 1, a parked car bomb blew up outside the local al-Rafidain TV station. The blast killed two pedestrians and wounded five station employees, while blowing out windows of the building and causing other damage to the offices.
Meanwhile, police said the family of a 29-year-old Kurdish radio reporter who was abducted a week ago had identified his body in the Baghdad morgue.
Azad Mohammed Hussein was kidnapped in northeastern Baghdad by unidentified gunmen while on his way to Dar al-Salam radio headquarters in the capital's Shaab neighborhood. His body was turned into the morgue Tuesday and identified by his family on Wednesday, police Capt. Ali al-Obaidi said.
In other violence:
- In the northern city of Kirkuk, two people were killed and two others injured when gunmen stormed inside a downtown coffee shop in the evening and opened fire on people playing dominos and backgammon, police Brig. Sarhat Qadir said.
- Also in Kirkuk, unidentified gunmen shot and killed an Iraqi soldier on his way home, Qadir said.
- Another four people were killed and eight wounded when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle ran into a police patrol in eastern Baghdad, police Lt. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said. Two policemen were among the dead in the attack.
- Elsewhere in the city, a synchronized bomb attack killed five and wounded 11 others, police Lt. Bilal Ali Majid said. First a car bomb parked in central Baghdad's Qurtaba Square exploded, followed shortly afterward by second device planted on the roadside nearby, Majid said. One policeman was among the dead. Insurgents are making increasing use of the tactic of detonating one bomb to draw attention to a spot, then a second to cause high casualties among onlookers and rescue workers.
- In a similar attack, a bomb exploded at 7 a.m. (12 a.m. ET) near a Shiite mosque in the Qahira neighborhood of northeastern Baghdad. Two minutes later another bomb exploded nearby, wounding four people who had gathered at the place of the first explosion, police 1st Lt. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said.
- In Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, a bomb attack in a residential district killed a woman and wounded six other people, police Capt. Laith Mohammed said.
- In Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, nine people were killed in four separate attacks, including the director of the provincial department for children's affairs who was shot dead by unidentified gunman with his son in their home, the provincial police said.
In Suwayrah, 25 miles down river from Baghdad, authorities fished four bodies out of the Tigris that showed signs of torture.
Two of the victims had their throats cut and two others had been shot, said Hadi al-Attan, an official with the Kut morgue where the bodies were taken. All were blindfolded and had their hands and legs bound, he said.
Eleven more bodies were found in the same area later, all with hands and legs bound, blindfolded and showing signs of torture, police Lt. Ali Abbas Abid said.
According to new figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry, more than 2,660 Iraqi civilians were killed in Baghdad in September — 400 more than the month before despite an intensified U.S.-Iraqi sweep aimed at reining in violence.
The numbers indicate how tough the vital battle to secure Baghdad has proven amid a wave of bloodshed this year, not only from Sunni Arab insurgents but also from Shiite and Sunni death squads who kidnap and kill members of the opposing sect.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.