- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

BAGHDAD — Eleven more U.S. troops were slain in combat, the military said yesterday, putting this month on track to be the deadliest for U.S. forces since the siege of Fallujah nearly two years ago.

The military says the sharp increase in U.S. casualties — 70 this month — is tied to Ramadan and a security crackdown that has left American forces more vulnerable to attack in Baghdad and its suburbs. Muslim tenets hold that fighting a foreign occupation force during Islam’s holy month puts a believer especially close to God.

As the death toll climbed for both U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians, who are being killed at a rate of 43 a day, the country’s Shi’ite-dominated government remained under intense U.S. pressure to shut down Shi’ite militias.

Some members of the armed groups have fractured into uncontrolled, roaming death squads out for revenge against Sunni Arabs, the Muslim minority in Iraq, who were politically and socially dominant until the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

There have been signs in recent days of mounting strain between Washington and the wobbly government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who felt compelled during a conversation with President Bush this week to seek his assurances that the Americans were not going to dump him.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari yesterday blamed American officials who had overseen Iraq before its own government took nominal control for bringing the country to the present state of chaos.

“Had our friends listened to us, we would not be where we are today,” Mr. Zebari said in an interview.

Asked which friends he was referring to, he said: “The Americans, the Coalition [Provisional Authority], the British. OK? Because they didn’t listen to us. They did exactly what they wanted to do. … Had they listened to us, we would have been someplace else [by now], really.”

Despite the climbing death toll, the U.S. military says it is making progress in taming runaway violence in the capital as it engages insurgents, militias and sectarian death squads, rounds up suspects, and uncovers weapons caches and masses of stockpiled explosives.

The latest American death occurred yesterday, when a soldier was killed after his patrol was attacked by small-arms fire south of Baghdad. Ten Americans were killed Tuesday — nine soldiers and a Marine — the highest single-day combat death toll for U.S. forces since Jan. 5, when 11 service members were killed across Iraq. There have been days with a higher number of U.S. deaths, but not solely from combat.

October is on track to be the deadliest month for U.S. forces in Iraq since 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.

“It breaks my heart because behind every casualty is somebody with tears in their eyes,” Mr. Bush told ABC News. “I think the hardest part of the presidency is to meet with families who’ve lost their loved one.”

With Iraq becoming a major issue in the Nov. 7 midterm elections in the United States, White House spokesman Tony Snow was asked whether the rising toll would cause Mr. Bush to alter course.

“No, his strategy is to win,” Mr. Snow said. “The president understands not only the difficulty of it, but he grieves for the people who have served with valor.”

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