US death toll in Iraq nears record
The U.S. military death toll in Iraq rose by at least three Monday and the November total is approaching the highest for any month since the American-led invasion was launched in March 2003.
At least 133 U.S. troops have died in Iraq so far this month ¡ª only the second time it has topped 100 in any month. The deadliest month was last April when 135 U.S. troops died as the insurgency flared in Sunni-dominated Fallujah, where dozens of U.S. troops died this month.
The Pentagon's official death toll for Iraq stood at 1,251 on Monday, but that did not include two soldiers killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad and another killed in a vehicle accident. When the month began, the death toll stood at 1,121, the Pentagon said.
It was not clear whether the bombing deaths of two Marines south of Baghdad on Sunday were included in the overall count the Pentagon published Monday.
Also Monday, Osama bin Laden's top deputy vowed in a videotape aired Monday to keep fighting the United States until Washington changed its policies.
In a brief excerpt broadcast on Al-Jazeera television, Ayman al-Zawahri said Americans "have to choose between one of two methods to deal with Muslims: either on mutual respect and exchange of interests, or to deal with them as if they are spoils of war." He added, "You have to realize that we are a nation of patience and endurance. We will stand firm to fight you with God's help until doomsday."
One factor that drove up combat casualties was fierce fighting in Fallujah. Combat injuries also have increased this month due to the Fallujah battle. Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington reported Monday that it received 32 additional battle casualties from Iraq over the past two weeks. One was in critical condition. All 32 had been treated earlier at the Army's main hospital in Europe, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
Some of the most severe injuries ¡ª and many of the deaths ¡ª among U.S. troops in Iraq are inflicted by the insurgents' homemade bombs, which the military calls improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
U.S. forces have put extraordinary effort into countering the IED threat, yet it persists. U.S. troops in Fallujah reported finding nearly as many homemade explosives over the past three weeks as had been uncovered throughout Iraq in the previous four months combined.
In recent action in Fallujah, troops found at least 650 homemade bombs, Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said Monday. That compares with 722 found throughout the country between July 1 and October 31.
The IEDs are rigged to detonate by remote control and often are hidden along roadways used by U.S. forces, to deadly effect.
Since U.S. forces invaded Fallujah on Nov. 8 to regain control from insurgents, they have found about a dozen IED "factories," a number of vehicles being modified to serve as car bombs, and at least 10 surface-to-air missiles capable of downing aircraft, Whitman said.
More than half of the approximately 100 mosques in Fallujah were used as fighting positions or weapon storage sites, Whitman said, citing a U.S. military report that has not been released publicly.
U.S. officials knew insurgents had used Fallujah as a haven from which to plan and organize resources for attacks in Baghdad and other cities in the so-called Sunni Triangle north and west of the capital, but the amount of weapons found exceeded expectations.
Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference last Tuesday that the kinds and amount of weapons found in Fallujah indicated the insurgents pose a serious and continuing threat.
"No doubt attacks will continue in the weeks and months ahead, and perhaps intensify as the Iraqi election approaches," Rumsfeld said, referring to national elections scheduled for Jan. 30.
Whitman said other discoveries in Fallujah include:
_Plastic explosives and TNT.
_A hand-held Global Positioning System receiver for use in navigation.
_Makeshift shoulder-fired rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, 122mm rockets and thousands of mortar rounds.
_An anti-aircraft artillery gun.
_More than 200 major weapons storage areas.
At US State Department, meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters Monday there is no reason Iraq should not hold its Jan. 30 elections as scheduled, despite the insurgency.
"We are working hard on it," he said.
The United Nations has increased its presence in the country, thousands of Iraqis are working on registration and "we are encouraging all parties to participate in the political process, especially in the Sunni heartland," Powell said.
"An election is the way forward," Powell said. "It's the means by which the
Iraqi people can say to the world, we want to live in democracy, we want to be
able to choose our leaders, and not let these individuals who are using car
bombs to murder innocent people" be allowed to succeed.