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Military toll tops 1,000

Iraq clashes kill 8 more US troops

BAGHDAD -- US military deaths in the Iraq campaign passed the 1,000 mark yesterday, with more than 800 of them during the stubborn insurgency that flared after the Americans brought down Saddam Hussein and President Bush declared major combat over.

A spike in fighting with Sunni and Shi'ite insurgents killed eight Americans in and near the Baghdad area yesterday and today, pushing the count to 1,003. That number includes 1,000 US troops and three civilians, two working for the US Army and one for the Air Force. The tally was compiled by the Associated Press based on Pentagon records and AP reporting from Iraq.

Two soldiers were killed in clashes yesterday with militiamen loyal to rebel Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. A senior Iraqi Health Ministry official, Saad al-Amili, said 35 Iraqis were killed and 203 wounded in those clashes, in the Sadr City district of Baghdad. Five other Americans died yesterday in separate attacks, and a soldier was killed early today when a roadside bomb struck a convoy near Balad, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry issued a statement saying the United States joined the friends and families of those who died in mourning their loss.

''Today marks a tragic milestone in the war in Iraq. More than 1,000 of America's sons and daughters have made the ultimate sacrifice. Our nation honors their service and joins with their families and loved ones in mourning their loss," Kerry said.

''We must never forget the price they have paid. And we must meet our sacred obligation to all our troops to do all we can to make the right decisions in Iraq so that we can bring them home as soon as possible."

Asked about the American death toll, White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters, ''We remember, honor, and mourn the loss of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending freedom. And we also remember those who lost their lives on Sept. 11th.

''The best way to honor all those who have lost their life in the war on terrorism is to continue to wage a broad war and spread freedom throughout a dangerous part of the world so that we can transform that region of the world and make the world a safer place, and make America more secure."

President Bush, speaking before news of the 1,000th death was released, said at a campaign rally in Missouri that Americans would support the families of the dead in their prayers.

''My promise to them is that we will complete the mission so that their child or their husband or wife has not died in vain," Bush said. ''We will be there until the mission is finished, and then we're coming home."

The 1,003 figure includes deaths from hostile and nonhostile causes since the United States launched the Iraq campaign in March 2003 to topple Hussein's regime. The vast majority of US deaths -- all but 138 -- occurred after Bush's May 1, 2003, declaration of an end to major combat operations.

The US military has not reported overall Iraqi deaths. The Iraqi Health Ministry started counting the dead only in April when heavy fighting broke out in Fallujah and Najaf. However, conservative estimates by private groups place the Iraqi toll at at least 10,000 -- or 10 times the number of US military deaths.

''It is difficult to establish the right number of casualties," said Amnesty International's Middle East spokeswoman, Nicole Choueiry. She added that ''it was the job of the occupation power to keep track of the numbers, but the Americans failed to do so."

A surge in fighting has killed 17 US service members in the past four days. Seven Marines and three Iraqi soldiers were killed Monday in a suicide car bombing north of Fallujah. Two US soldiers were killed in a mortar attack Sunday.

West of the capital yesterday, US warplanes swooped low over Fallujah, which is controlled by Sunni Muslim insurgents.

A group linked to Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- Tawhid and Jihad -- posted a statement on a militant website claiming responsibility for the suicide attack Monday, describing it as ''a martyr operation . . . that targeted American soldiers and their mercenary apostate collaborators from the Iraqi army."

In Baghdad, the fighting between US soldiers and Sadr's militiamen erupted yesterday when US officials said the cleric's gunmen fired on Americans carrying out patrols in Sadr City.

A Sadr spokesman, Sheik Raed al-Kadhimi, blamed ''intrusive" American patrolling for provoking the fighting.

''Our fighters have no choice but to return fire and to face the US forces and helicopters pounding our houses," Kadhimi said in a statement.

Late yesterday, the militia announced a unilateral cease-fire but said it would fight back in self-defense. It was unclear whether the statement had any meaning, since the militia routinely defends its actions as legitimate self-defense.

US Army Captain Brian O'Malley said that he was unaware of the cease-fire offer but that the area was quiet in the early evening. ''We only fire when we are fired at, but we will not stop our patrols or withdraw from our positions," he said.

At the Pentagon, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attributed the spike in US combat deaths on an insurgency that ''is becoming more sophisticated in its efforts to destabilize the country."

''We are aggressively seeking and capturing those insurgents who are not willing to do so themselves, but are encouraging people to commit suicide attacks," Myers told reporters yesterday. ''Make no mistake, we will continue to pursue those who seek to disrupt progress in Iraq."

Myers and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that in order to retake the insurgents' strongholds in central Iraq cities, Iraqi forces would need to be trained to take the lead, though Myers said the Iraqi forces would not be ready for such a task until the end of the year.

During the Sadr City fighting, US warplanes flew over the sprawling neighborhood -- home to some 2 million people.

US forces appeared to be carrying out the fighting without the help of Iraqi security forces, though US spokesmen talked of ''multinational forces" involved in the operations, a term that sometimes includes Iraqi troops.

Small groups of Sadr's Mahdi Army fighters pounded on the asphalt with hammers to plant mines and explosives in the streets. Fighters in their teens and early 20s trotted toward the clashes -- grenade launchers in hand.

Elsewhere, a bomb exploded yesterday near the convoy of the governor of the Baghdad region, killing two people. Governor Ali al-Haidri escaped injury, said an Interior Ministry spokesman, Colonel Adnan Abdel Rahman said.

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

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