IRAQ Insurgents' killing spree nears record-high level

U.S. troops are victims of attacks about 70 times a day, officials say.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- As U.S. and Iraqi leaders opened talks this week to discuss an American troop withdrawal, one of the biggest one-week death tolls for U.S. forces in Iraq and a continuing surge in killings of Iraqi forces and civilians showed that the insurgency is increasing its lethality and expanding its scope, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials and casualty counts.
Of the 29 U.S. combat fatalities lastweek, 14 were U.S. Marines who died Wednesday when a three-high stack of antitank mines exploded under their assault vehicle. The seven-day period ending Saturday night was the Americans' fourth-deadliest week in combat since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, based on statistics compiled by the Defense Department and by the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, an independent Web site.
The steadily mounting U.S. combat losses suggest that Iraq's 2-year-old insurgency remains capable of repeatedly inflicting significant losses on Americans. Meanwhile, the guerrillas have broadened their Iraqi targets to include Shiite Muslim civilians and politicians, in a bid to provoke full-scale civil war.
Last month, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, described the insurgency as stagnating and outlined the possibility of starting a U.S. troop withdrawal next spring. The top military spokesman in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, told reporters in Baghdad on Thursday: "This is not an expanding insurgency. What we're seeing is probably the opposite."
Mounting death toll
Yet combat deaths among U.S. forces have greatly increased in the second half of the war and continue at a steady pace. Last month, for example, U.S. and allied security forces reported 39 deaths from bombings, the highest monthly toll since the war began, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, which compiles its statistics from Defense Department data.
There are an average of 70 attacks a day on U.S. forces, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a July 21 statement he prepared for a government court case. "As I have publicly stated, our assessments indicate that the lethality of the attacks is on average increasing," Myers wrote.
Myers also cited "documented near-term increases in the assassination of Iraqi government officials (52 in the three-month period ending June 27, 2005), as well as a recent uptick in insurgent attacks on senior diplomatic officials from regional neighbors of Iraq."
Iraqi casualties
In addition, Iraqis are sustaining many more losses than Americans. The number of deaths among Iraq's military and police forces has tripled between January and July, according to figures compiled by the Washington-based Brookings Institute from news media and official reports. The institute's Iraq Index shows the killings surging from the low 100s in January and February to about 200 in March and April to 259 in May, 296 in June and 304 in July.
Figures for war-related killings of Iraqi civilians are imprecise because not all news of civilian deaths reaches the media. But according to Brookings, roughly 400 to 700 Iraqi civilians were killed in July -- a decrease of 100 to 200 from June. The number of dead was still at least 100 more than in April.
The past week's surge in American combat deaths came as a top-level Iraq-U.S. commission held its first meeting in Baghdad to plan for a U.S. withdrawal. Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak Rubaie, said commission members were slated to give Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari their recommendations in 60 days on what security conditions should be met before any significant reduction of the 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq could begin.
Conditions under discussion include the level of strength, training, equipping and command of the Iraqi security forces, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. Casey said last month that substantial withdrawals could begin by March or April if Iraq's political process and security force buildup were on track.
Iraqi leaders, more than their American counterparts, stress the importance of reining in the insurgency ahead of a U.S. pullout.

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