- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2011

BAGHDAD — Five American soldiers died Monday when a barrage of rockets slammed into a base in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad in the largest, single-day loss of life for U.S. forces in Iraq in two years.

The attack followed warnings from Shiite militants backed by Iran and anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr that they would violently resist any effort to keep American troops in Iraq past their year-end deadline for their withdrawal.

Although American casualties have dropped considerably in the two years since U.S. troops pulled back from Iraq cities, Shiite militias have begun hammering U.S. bases and vehicles with rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs over the past three months.

Violence around Iraq has dropped dramatically since the insurgency’s most deadly years in 2006 and 2007.

But eight years into a war often perceived as all but over, the deaths of the five U.S. soldiers and 11 Iraqis killed in other attacks around the country Monday underscore the persistent dangers here.

The U.S. military said the five soldiers died Monday morning at a base in eastern Baghdad that was hit by indirect fire, the military’s term for mortars or rockets. Officials are withholding their identifies until their relatives are notified of their deaths.

Two Iraqi security officials later said three rockets slammed into a joint U.S.-Iraqi base in the Baladiyat neighborhood near the U.S. forces’ living quarters. The American troops are partnering with Ministry of Interior forces.

Baladiyat is a Shiite neighborhood that borders Sadr City, a slum in eastern Baghdad that is the stronghold of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The Shiite cleric with ties to Iran has made opposition to the U.S. troops a core issue among his followers.

In January and February, the U.S. military recorded an average of about three attacks per day. By May, that number jumped to almost six per day.

The five fatalities Monday were the most in a single day since May 11, 2009, when five troops died in a noncombat incident. According to an Associated Press tally, 4,459 American service members have died in Iraq since the war began in 2003.

At the height of the surge of U.S. forces four years ago to combat sectarian violence that nearly tore Iraq apart, there were about 170,000 American troops in the country. The number then was gradually drawn down to below 50,000 when Washington announced it had ended its combat operations 10 months ago.

The roughly 46,000 U.S. troops still in the country focus on training and assisting Iraqi security personnel.

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