Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/15/2004 7:47:39 PM ET 2004-12-16T00:47:39

A bomb blast Wednesday at the gate of one of Shiite Muslims’ most holy shrines in Karbala, Iraq, killed eight Iraqis and wounded 32 more. It was an apparent assassination attempt by Sunni insurgents against a senior Shiite cleric. The attack comes exactly one month after U.S. military officials claimed their assault on Fallujah had broken the back of the insurgency.

But Wednesday, U.S. military officials conceded that, far from broken, the insurgents are actually getting better at devising new, more efficient methods of killing.

"A very, very sophisticated enemy — an enemy that does not have a conscience," says Maj. Gen. Stephen Speakes, deputy commander for operations of the Third Infantry Division.

Their most lethal weapons are still suicide car bombs or IEDs — improvised explosive devices — planted in the road. But the bombs are now much bigger, and the insurgents are constantly changing triggering devices to thwart any U.S. countermeasures.

"They may use doorbells today to blow things up," says Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command. "They may have remote controls from toys tomorrow. And as we adapt, they adapt."

But it was the U.S. military that didn't adapt fast enough. Under intense criticism that it didn't provide enough armor on its trucks and Humvees to protect the troops, the Army announced Wednesday it is spending more than $4 billion to get the job done.

Still, driving those supply convoys has become so dangerous, the Iraqi government is being forced to rehire former Iraqi military drivers for that hazardous duty.

And one more sign the violence is expected to get worse — the number of American troops in Irq reached 148,000 Wednesday, the highest since the start of the war. In fact, U.S. officials predict that as Iraqi elections in January draw near, the level of violence in Iraq will reach record levels.

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