- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

BAGHDAD — The number of American troops killed in Iraq in October reached the highest monthly total in a year yesterday after four Marines and a sailor died of wounds suffered while fighting in the same Sunni insurgent stronghold.

The U.S. military said 96 American troops have died in October, the most in one month since October 2005, when the same number were killed.

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, police said.

The deadliest month for U.S. 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 U.S. troops were killed.

The U.S. military said the five service members killed in the 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 to Regimental Combat Team 7. All died from wounds suffered in attacks Wednesday.

Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the U.S. 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.

Gen. Caldwell said violence has tended to spike during that month, then fall off. He also said increased U.S. patrols and roadblocks in the search for a missing American soldier could be having an effect.

Fighting continued yesterday with clashes between Iraqi security forces and militia groups linked to major Shi’ite political parties, part of an ominous trend adding to the violence wrought by the Sunni-led insurgency against U.S. coalition forces and their Iraqi allies.

At least 12 policemen were killed in fighting near Baqouba with gunmen of the Mahdi Army militia, who are loyal to fiery anti-American Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

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.

Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said that about 300 Iraqi police and soldiers died during Ramadan, and more than 961 Iraqis altogether 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 almost 40 every 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.

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