IMAGE: Baghdad attack aftermath
Mohammed Uraibi  /  AP
Baghdad airport employee Munef Badr sits at Yarmouk hospital Wednesday after being wounded by a suicide bombing near the airport's main checkpoint.
msnbc.com news services
updated 6/1/2005 9:53:47 AM ET 2005-06-01T13:53:47

New statistics show that a spike in militants attacks in May took a bloody toll on ordinary Iraqis and U.S. soldiers alike, with nearly 200 more Iraqis killed last month than in April and the highest American military death toll since January.

Figures released by the Iraqi government on Wednesday show that at least 670 Iraqis were killed in May. That compared to 485 who were killed in April.

Among them were 434 civilians, up from 299 killed in April, according to Health Ministry figures. Some 775 civilians were also wounded last month, compared with 598 in April.

Police were also severely targeted, with 151 killed in May compared with 86 in April. At least 325 policemen were also wounded, compared with 131 in April, the Interior Ministry said.

Some 297 insurgents were also killed in May, an almost 400 percent increase on the 60 militants killed in April, according to statistics obtained by The Associated Press from the interior, defense and health ministries.

The Iraqi government did not provide year-on-year figures for comparison or for the months before April.

U.S. death toll rises again
This latest spree of violence by insurgents, who rose up after the American-led invasion in 2003 toppled President Saddam Hussein, put a dramatic end to a period when attacks on U.S. forces had waned after the historic Jan. 30 elections.

At least 77 U.S. troops were killed in May, according to a count of deaths announced by the military. That is the highest toll since 107 Americans were killed in January. It marked the second straight monthly increase since 36 U.S. troops died in March, among the lowest tolls of the war.

Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said insurgents are staging about 70 attacks nationwide per day.

Defense analysts said the recent violence was the latest evidence Iraq remains an uncertain project for the United States.

“Those who believed that the elections would be a decisive turning point undermining the insurgency are disappointed yet again,” Cato Institute defense analyst Ted Carpenter said. “The insurgency seems as capable as ever.”

The latest Pentagon figures listed 1,658 U.S. military deaths since the war began, with another 12,630 wounded in combat. The United States has 139,000 troops in Iraq, with another 23,000 British and other foreign soldiers.

New Shiite-led government
The increase in deaths coincides with the April 28 announcement of Iraq’s new Shiite-led government, which was followed by a wave of violence believed launched by Sunni insurgents targeting Iraqi security forces and civilians.

“There was a lull in attacks after the elections” in January, Boylan said.

“There was a period of time right after the election until the beginning of April or middle of April that we actually saw them (daily rebel attacks) dip into the low 30s," he added.

Asked if the insurgents, a mix of indigenous Sunni Muslim Arabs and foreign radical Islamic fighters, could sustain the current level of violence, Boylan said, “Don’t know yet.”

Among the largest Iraqi police attacks was Monday’s twin-suicide bomb attack that killed at least 27 policemen and wounded 118 in Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry said 85 soldiers were killed in May, up from 40 in April. Another 79 soldiers were wounded, compared with 63 in April.

Jump in insurgent deaths
But the most dramatic rise in deaths was among insurgents. The huge jump is believed linked to two large-scale U.S. military operations conducted in western Iraq during May, Operation New Market in the town of Haditha and Operation Matador around the town of Qaim, that killed about 140 insurgents and about 100 suicide bombings since April 28, according to an Associated Press count.

Boylan attributed the rise in U.S. deaths in May to several factors.

May was a record month for car bombs used by insurgents in suicide attacks and with remote-controlled detonations, he said. Boylan added U.S. forces suffered losses in the two offensives in western Iraq.

American generals in the weeks after the election had talked about a possible serious reduction in U.S. troop levels next year.

Gen. George Casey, top U.S. commander in Iraq, has not completed his assessment of future troop levels, Boylan said, adding that the level of violence and the capabilities of U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces would be crucial factors.

Boylan preached patience.

“This is the hardest type of fight to be in,” Boylan said. ”If we get too impatient and decide to throw in the towel too soon, then we give up everything we’ve gained up to this point.” 

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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