The International Herald-Tribune reports that “More U.S. troops died in Iraq combat in past four months than in any similar period of war”.
More U.S. troops were killed in combat in Iraq over the past four months — at least 334 through Jan. 31 — than in any comparable stretch since the war began, according to an Associated Press analysis of casualty records.
Not since the bloody battle for Fallujah in 2004 has the death toll spiked so high.
The reason is that U.S. soldiers and Marines are fighting more battles in the streets of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and other cities. And while hostile forces are using a variety of weapons, the top killer is the roadside bomb.
In some respects it is the urban warfare that U.S. commanders thought they had managed largely to avoid after U.S. troops entered Baghdad in early April 2003 and quickly brought down President Saddam Hussein’s government.
And with President George W. Bush now sending thousands more U.S. troops to Baghdad and western Anbar province, despite opposition in the U.S. Congress and the American public’s increasing war weariness, the prospect looms of even higher casualties.
The increasingly urban nature of the war is reflected in the discovery of a higher percentage of U.S. deaths in Baghdad lately. Over the course of the war, at least 1,142 U.S. troops have died in Anbar province, the heart of the Sunni Arab insurgency, through Feb. 6, according to an AP count. That compares with 713 in Baghdad. But since Dec. 28, 2006, there were more in Baghdad than in Anbar — 33 to 31.
The 334 U.S. troops killed in action in Iraq over the past four months does not include 36 who died of nonhostile causes like vehicle accidents. The previous highest total for those killed in action during any four-month period was 308 between September and December 2004, which included the November battle to retake Fallujah.
The recent increase is not linked to variations in U.S. troop levels. That number shifted from about 137,000 at the end of January 2006 to a range of 130,000-150,000 during midyear before ending the year at 128,000. It has risen now to about 138,000, with the buildup in Baghdad just getting started.
The upward trend began in August, the same month that U.S. and Iraqi forces launched the second phase of a Baghdad security crackdown, dubbed Operation Together Forward, that ultimately failed. From a total of 38 killed in July, the number rose to 58 in August, 61 in September and 99 in October, according to an Associated Press count.