- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

BAGHDAD — Fighting with Sunni and Shi’ite insurgents yesterday killed seven more Americans in the Baghdad area, pushing the number of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq campaign past 1,000, an Associated Press tally showed.

The official Pentagon count — which sometimes is a day or more late in reporting fatalities — remained at 994 dead. The AP tally of 1,001 was based on Pentagon records, AP reports from Iraq and reports from soldiers’ families, and includes three civilian contractors killed while working for the Pentagon.

Heavy fighting took place in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City, where U.S. forces engaged guerrillas loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, breaking a 12-day-old cease-fire negotiated in the Shi’ite shrine city of Najaf. A Health Ministry official said 35 persons were killed and 203 injured.

Both sides claim the other broke the truce.

U.S. warplanes also struck targets in Fallujah after the military said insurgents had attacked American positions outside the city. A U.S. Marine spokesman said up to 100 insurgents had been killed, and a spokesman at Fallujah General Hospital said at least nine Iraqis had been wounded.

The past two days have been particularly bloody for U.S. forces with 14 killed, including seven Marines slain on Monday by a suicide bombing north of Fallujah. A group linked to Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab Zarqawi claimed responsibility in a Web statement yesterday.

Two more American soldiers were killed in yesterday’s fighting in Sadr City and another five died in separate attacks, mostly in the Baghdad area, to bring the AP death tally to 1,001.

The number includes deaths from hostile and nonhostile causes since President Bush began a campaign in March 2003 to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. A few deaths occurred in neighboring Kuwait.

During a press conference at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld anticipated that the tally soon would surpass 1,000, and sought to play down the significance. “When combined with U.S. losses in other theaters in the global war on terror, we have lost well more than a thousand already,” he said.

The fighting in Sadr City was the most serious with followers of Sheik al-Sadr since the negotiation of a cease-fire in Najaf on Aug. 26.

U.S. tanks moved into the mainly Shi’ite neighborhood, and armored personnel carriers and Bradley fighting vehicles were deployed at key intersections as ambulances rushed the wounded to hospitals. Warplanes fired flares to avoid being hit by anti-aircraft missiles.

U.S. forces appeared to be carrying out most — if not all — of the fighting. No Iraqi security forces were seen during the clashes, though U.S. spokesmen talked of “multinational forces” involved in the operations, a term that sometimes includes Iraqi troops.

The battles erupted when militants attacked U.S. forces carrying out routine patrols, killing one American, said U.S. Army Capt. Brian O’Malley.

An al-Sadr spokesman in Baghdad, Sheik Raed al-Kadhimi, blamed what he called intrusive American incursions into Sadr City and attempts to arrest the cleric’s followers.

“Our fighters have no choice but to return fire and to face the U.S. forces and helicopters pounding our houses,” Mr. al-Kadhimi said.

The renewed fighting came after a period of calm in the neighborhood after Sheik al-Sadr called on his followers last week to observe a cease-fire and announced he was going into politics.

But al-Sadr aides later said peace talks with interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s government had stalled, with the government refusing militants’ demands for U.S. troops to keep out of the district.

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