Tuesday, November 30, 2004

U.S. death toll in Iraq nears monthly record


U.S. death toll in Iraq nears monthly record
Car bomb kills at least 7 civilians; Iraqi forces suffer new attacks

MSNBC News Services
Updated: 5:49 a.m. ET Nov. 30, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. Army soldier died from injuries sustained after a roadside exploded next to his patrol north of Baghdad, the military said Tuesday.

The death brings to 134 the number of American troops killed in Iraq this month, according to an unofficial count. This makes November the deadliest month for the U.S. military since last April when 135 troops died.

The attack on the 1st Infantry Division patrol occurred near the town of Alazu at about 10 p.m. on Monday, the statement said. The injured soldier was evacuated to a field hospital for treatment, where he later died of his wounds.

His name was withheld pending notification of next of kin.

The U.S. military command reported five new American deaths on Monday. Separately, 13 U.S. Marines were wounded in a mortar attack south of Baghdad.

On Tuesday, a car bomb exploded near a U.S. military patrol in the town of Beiji, north of Baghdad, killing at least seven Iraqis and wounding 20 people, including two U.S. soldiers, doctors and the military said. Another American soldier was wounded in a separate attack in the city.

In related news, about 21,000 American soldiers, most of them from units sent to Iraq, have been treated at the biggest U.S. military hospital outside the United States since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, the hospital said Monday.

Of the total, 17,878 of the U.S. soldiers treated were serving in Iraq, while 3,085 were from units in Afghanistan said Marie Shaw, hospital spokeswoman for Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Landstuhl handles many U.S. combat casualties but it did not break down the figure into battlefield and noncombat patients.

Car bomb explodes near U.S. patrol

On Tuesday, a U.S. military spokesman said the car exploded in a northern section of Beiji, 112 miles north of Baghdad. He said the civilian casualties were taken to Beiji hospital and the U.S. soldiers were evacuated.

A doctor at Beiji hospital, Samir Mehdi, said he had received seven civilian dead and 18 wounded, including a child.

The U.S. military gave the death toll as four, with 17 civilians wounded.

Witnesses said the attack occurred in a busy market area of the city, destroying dozens of stalls.

In a separate attack, an insurgent fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. tank in the town, wounding one U.S. soldier, a spokesman from the U.S. 1st Infantry Division said.

A hospital official in Beiji said a child and three traffic police were among the wounded.

Beiji, site of a major oil refinery, has seen a surge in violence over the past three weeks, since U.S. forces launched their offensive to retake the rebellious town of Fallujah.

U.S. tanks and armored vehicles, backed by helicopter gunships, launched an assault on parts of Beiji two weeks ago to suppress insurgents hiding out there. Since then there have been frequent clashes between U.S. forces and rebels in the town.

Security forces targeted

On Monday, insurgents stepped up attacks on Iraq’s fledgling security forces, killing seven Iraqi police and guardsmen in a suicide bombing hours after storming a police station north of the capital. The military reported five U.S. deaths.

Thirteen Marines were wounded Monday in a mortar attack south of Baghdad, the military said. No further details were released.

Monday’s suicide attack occurred in Baghdadi, a Euphrates River town about 120 miles northwest of the capital, where a driver detonated his vehicle near a police checkpoint, police Lt. Mohammed al-Fehdawi said. A hospital official, Hatim Ahmed, confirmed seven police and Iraqi National Guard members were killed and nine were wounded.

Late Sunday, gunmen stormed a police station west of Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, looted the armory, commandeered several police cars and fled after encountering no resistance, Iraqi officials said.

U.S. troops went to the police station Monday morning and arrested two dozen people, police said. American officials had no comment. U.S. and Iraqi troops recaptured Samarra from insurgents in September, but the city remains tense.

Deadly route

Two American soldiers from Task Force Baghdad were killed and three wounded Monday in a roadside bomb explosion in northwestern Baghdad, the U.S. command said. One American soldier died and two were injured in a vehicle accident 30 miles northwest of the town of Kut in eastern Iraq, the military said.

Attacks have increased against U.S., Iraqi and other targets on the road leading from the center of Baghdad to the city’s international airport, located on the western outskirts of the capital.

The British Embassy announced Monday that its staff would no longer be permitted to travel on the airport road, which the U.S. State Department has identified as one of the most dangerous routes in Iraq.

“We advise against all but essential travel to Iraq,” the British Embassy said in a statement. “We urge all British nationals in Iraq to consider whether their presence in Iraq is essential at this time. Even essential travel to Iraq should be delayed, if possible.”

Paving the way for elections

South of the capital, U.S., British and Iraqi forces pressed an offensive aimed at clearing insurgents from an area known as the “triangle of death.” Two Marines were killed there Sunday, U.S. officials said, and British troops escaped serious injury Monday when a bomb exploded next to a Scimitar light tank of the Queen’s Dragoon Guards.

The offensive, called Operation Plymouth Rock, was launched in part as a follow-up to this month’s assault on Fallujah, the main insurgent bastion 40 miles west of Baghdad.

U.S. commanders want to cut off an escape route for Fallujah fighters and pacify the area so that national elections can be held Jan. 30. Sunni Muslim clerics have called for an election boycott, and leading Sunni politicians urged the vote be postponed. They say violence makes a viable vote impossible, but the country's main Shiite Muslim parties say it should go ahead.

The U.S. military has warned that violence will worsen in Iraq as elections scheduled for Jan. 30 approach.

Asked Monday if he were optimistic that the elections would take place as planned, Secretary of State Colin Powell said there was no reason why they should not.

“We’re working hard on it. The U.N. has increased its presence. There are thousands of Iraqis who are working on registration and getting ready for the elections. We’re encouraging all parties to participate in the political process, especially in the Sunni heartland,” Powell told reporters.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.