BAGHDAD, Iraq - The number of American troops killed in Iraq in October
reached the highest monthly total in a year Thursday after four Marines and a
sailor died of wounds suffered while fighting in the same Sunni insurgent
The US military said 96 US troops have died so far in October, the most in
one month since October 2005, when the same number was killed. The spike in
deaths has been a major factor behind rising anti-war sentiment in the United
States, fueling calls for President Bush to change tactics.
In other violence, 12 police officers were killed in fighting with suspected
militia gunmen in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, officials said. Eighteen
militants also were killed.
The deadliest month for US forces in Iraq was 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. In January 2005, 107 US
troops were killed.
Polls show a majority of Americans are opposed to Bush's handling of Iraq,
and at a news conference in Washington on Wednesday, he indicated he shared the
public's frustration even as he pushed back against calls for troop withdrawals.
"I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq," Bush
said. "I'm not satisfied either."
Gen. William B. Caldwell, the US military spokesman, said there had been a
marked decrease in violence in Baghdad since the end of Ramadan, the Muslim
month of fasting, earlier this week.
Caldwell said violence has in the past tended to spike during that month,
then fall off. He also said it was possible increased U.S. patrols and
roadblocks in the search of a missing American soldier could be having an
"Everyone is asking this very same question ... whether this is occurring
naturally or is it due to the fact that we in fact established and are
conducting these additional operations," he said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the United States would increase
its support for Iraqi security forces.
"We intend to increase their budgets," he said, as well as their
capabilities, and officials will work to help make the improvements more
quickly. He did not cite any figures.
Rumsfeld also said people ought to "just back off" and stop demanding
specific benchmarks or timelines for progress in Iraq, saying it is just too
difficult to predict when the Iraqis can take control of security.
Fighting continued Thursday with fresh clashes between Iraqi security forces
and militia groups linked to major Shiite political parties, part of an ominous
new trend adding to the violence wrought by the Sunni-led insurgency against US
coalition forces and their Iraqi allies.
At least 12 policemen were killed in fighting near Baqouba pitting Iraqi
security forces against gunmen of the Mahdi Army militia, who are loyal to fiery
anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. At least 18 militants also were
killed, said Ghassan al-Bawi, police chief of surrounding Diyala province.
Mahdi militiamen have flooded into the area 35 miles northeast of Baghdad,
forcing large numbers of residents belonging to Iraq's Sunni Arab minority to
flee their homes. Mahdi fighters killed scores of Sunnis in massacres last week
in the nearby city of Balad, forcing U.S. troops to return to the area after
Iraqi security forces were unable to stem the bloodshed.
The U.S. military said the five service members killed in volatile Anbar
province included a sailor assigned to the 3rd Naval Construction Regiment. Two
of the Marines were attached to Regimental Combat Team 5, and two others to
Regimental Combat Team 7. All died from wounds suffered in attacks Wednesday in
Anbar province, a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency.
According to Gen. George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, about 300 Iraqi
police and soldiers died during Ramadan, while altogether, more than 961 Iraqis
have been killed in war-related violence this month, the highest level since The
Associated Press began tracking civilian deaths in April 2005.
That amounts to an average of more than 41 each day, compared with a daily
average of about 27 since April 2005, as more Iraqis fall prey to sectarian
death squads affiliated with the militias.
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. The United Nations has said 100
Iraqis are being killed each day.