US soldiers and Iraqi police secure the scene of a suicide car bomb attack in Kirkuk
Slahaldeen Rasheed  /  Reuters
U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police secure the scene of a suicide car bomb attack that targeted a police patrol in Kirkuk, north of Baghdad, on Sunday.
updated 10/18/2006 9:25:02 PM ET 2006-10-19T01:25:02

Eleven more U.S. troops were slain in combat, the military said Wednesday, putting October on track to be the deadliest month for U.S. forces since the siege of Fallujah nearly two years ago.

The military says the sharp increase in U.S. casualties — 70 so far this month — is tied to Ramadan and a security crackdown that has left American forces more vulnerable to attack in Baghdad and its suburbs. Muslim tenets hold that fighting a foreign occupation force during Islam’s holy month puts a believer especially close to God.

As the death toll climbed for both U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians, who are being killed at a rate of 43 a day, the country’s Shiite-dominated government remained under intense U.S. pressure to shut down Shiite militias.

Some members of the armed groups have fractured into uncontrolled, roaming death squads out for revenge against Sunni Arabs, the Muslim minority in Iraq who were politically and socially dominant until the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Signs of strain
There have been growing signs in recent days of mounting strain between Washington and the wobbly government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who felt compelled during a conversation with President Bush this week to seek his assurances that the Americans were not going to dump him.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on Wednesday blamed American officials who ran Iraq before its own government took nominal control for bringing the country to the present state of chaos.

“Had our friends listened to us, we would not be where we are today,” Zebari said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Asked which friends he was referring to, Zebari said:

“The Americans, the Coalition (Provision Authority), the British. OK? Because they didn’t listen to us. The did exactly what they wanted to do. ... Had they listened to us, we would have been someplace else (by now), really.”

It was an unusually harsh statement from Zebari, a Kurd, whose ethnic group owes much to the U.S. intervention in Iraq and for its virtual autonomy in the north of the country.

Issue of amnesty
A report in Britain’s Financial Times on Wednesday said the White House is now pressuring Iraqi authorities to give amnesty to Sunni insurgents. That would be a surprising change for the Bush administration, which has resisted amnesty because it could potentially include fighters who have killed American troops.

At the State Department, spokesman Tom Casey said a decision on amnesty would be left to the Iraqi government.

“I wouldn’t describe our position as pressuring them to do this now or at any particular moment except at a point when they feel their national reconciliation process has gone through its appropriate steps and they’re ready to move forward with it,” Casey said.

Soon after taking office in May, al-Maliki proposed an amnesty for insurgents who put down their arms. But no insurgents took up the offer, and the proposal bogged down amid differences over who would be eligible. Al-Maliki said those “with blood on their hands” — either Iraqis’ or American soldiers’ — would not be covered.

U.S. claims progress
Despite the climbing death toll, the U.S. military claims it is making progress in taming runaway violence in the capital as it engages insurgents, militias and sectarian death squads, rounds up suspects and uncovers weapons caches and masses of stockpiled explosives.

Video: Who's the enemy? The latest American death took place Wednesday, when a soldier was killed after his patrol was attacked with small-arms fire south of Baghdad. Ten Americans were killed on Tuesday — nine soldiers and a Marine — the highest single-day combat death toll for U.S. forces since Jan. 5, when 11 service members were killed across Iraq. There have been days with a higher number of U.S. deaths, but not solely from combat.

October is now on track to be the deadliest month for American forces in Iraq since November 2004, when military offenses primarily in the then-insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, left 137 troops dead, 126 of them in combat.

‘It breaks my heart’
“It breaks my heart because behind every casualty is somebody with tears in their eyes,” Bush told ABC News in an interview. “I think the hardest part of the presidency is to meet with families who’ve lost their loved one.”

With Iraq becoming an increasing issue in the Nov. 7 midterm elections in the United States, White House spokesman Tony Snow was asked if the rising toll would cause Bush to alter course.

“No, his strategy is to win,” Snow said. “The president understands not only the difficulty of it, but he grieves for the people who have served with valor. But as everybody says correctly, we’ve got to win. And that comes at a cost.”

The spiking American death toll has compounded a period of intense violence among Iraqis. If current trends continue, October will be the deadliest month for Iraqis since the AP began tracking deaths in April 2005. So far this month, 775 Iraqis have been killed in war-related violence, an average of 43 a day.

That compares to an average daily death toll of about 27 since April 2005. The AP count includes civilians, government officials and police and security forces, and is considered a minimum based on AP reporting. The actual number is likely higher, as many killings go unreported.

Just north of Baghdad, in the city of Balad, at least 95 people died in a sectarian slaughter that began Friday.

On Wednesday, key tribal, religious and government officials brokered a 20-day truce in the region, hoping to work through Sunni and Shiite grievances during the cooling off period. Balad is a majority Shiite town, but is surrounded by territory that is mainly populated by Sunnis.

Violence rages
Also Wednesday a bomb planted on the main highway between the southern cities of Amarah and Basra killed Ali Qassim al-Tamimi, head of intelligence for the Maysan provincial police force, along with four bodyguards, police Capt. Hussein Karim said.

Elsewhere, local Sunni and Shiite leaders were meeting in an attempt to resolve the fate of more than 40 people missing since their 13-car convoy was waylaid at a checkpoint on Sunday outside Balad, where almost 100 people were killed in five days of sectarian fighting.

Police said the hijacked cars had been diverted to the nearby Shiite militant stronghold of al-Nebaiyi on Balad’s outskirts.

Al-Maliki consulted with Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Wednesday in a bid to enlist support for his government’s efforts to build political consensus and tackle the widening sectarian violence.

Al-Maliki’s call on Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf underscored the influence wielded by the spiritual leader on the Shiite-dominated government and comes as the prime minister faces growing U.S. pressure to show more resolve in dealing with the daily carnage of sectarian bombings and attacks.

Efforts at stabilization
“I came (to see al-Sistani) so that the security and political situation can be stabilized, allowing the government to turn its attention to reconstruction,” al-Maliki told reporters after the meeting.

For the U.S. military, October’s death toll is on a pace that, if continued, would make the month the deadliest for coalition forces since January 2005, when 107 U.S. troops died. The war’s deadliest month for U.S. forces was November 2004, when 137 troops died. At least 2,785 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an AP count.

The U.S. military has said the upsurge in casualties was expected as American forces, joined by their Iraqi counterparts, flooded into the capital and its environs in August to conduct a crackdown on insurgent and militia killings.

U.S. troops resume patrols
The military credits the crackdown with wiping out many insurgent cell and confiscation of vast amounts of explosives, weapons and ammunition. But patrolling Baghdad’s violent streets has also left U.S. forces highly vulnerable, yet again, to insurgent attacks and roadside bombings.

The fighting in Balad also forced U.S. forces to return to patrolling the streets of the predominantly Shiite city after Iraq’s best-trained soldiers proved unable to stem a series of revenge killings sparked by the murder on Friday of 17 Shiite construction workers.

The U.S. military turned over control of the surrounding province north of Baghdad to the Iraqi army a month ago, and American forces apparently did not redeploy there until Monday, when the worst of the bloodletting had ended.

Sunnis flee Balad
Minority Sunnis, who absorbed most of the brutality in the city of 80,000 people, have been fleeing across the Tigris River in small boats.

On the outskirts of the city, two fuel trucks were attacked and burned and Shiite militiamen clashed with residents of Duluiyah, a predominantly Sunni city on the east bank of the Tigris. Militants were blocking food and fuel trucks from entering Duluiyah.

The conflict between Shiites and Sunnis in the Balad area illustrates the threat to the region should Iraq move toward dividing into three federal states—controlled by Shiites in the south, Sunnis in the center and Kurds in the north.

A government statement said Wednesday that a much-anticipated Iraqi national reconciliation conference aimed at building political consensus and stemming sectarian violence will be held Nov. 4.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Violence escalates in Iraq


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments