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US military suffers costly month in Iraq as 104 troops killed

Civilian toll high as violence rages

Followers of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr rallied yesterday in Baghdad, condemning a raid the previous day. More than 60 Iraqis were killed or found dead nationwide yesterday. (hadi mizban/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

BAGHDAD -- The deaths of more than 100 American troops in April made it the deadliest month so far this year for US forces in Iraq, underscoring the growing exposure of Americans as thousands of reinforcements arrive for an 11-week-old offensive to tame sectarian violence.

More than 60 Iraqis also were killed or found dead across Iraq yesterday. Casualties among Iraqi civilians and security forces have outstripped those of Americans throughout the war. In March, a total of 2,762 Iraqi civilians and policemen were killed, down 4 percent from the previous month, when 2,864 were killed. Iraq's government has yet to release any monthly totals for April.

Attacks killed nine US troops over the weekend, including five whose deaths were announced yesterday. The weekend's fatalities brought the toll for the month to 104 Americans killed, in the sixth most-lethal month for American forces since the US-led invasion four years ago.

Under the new counterinsurgency plan, many US forces have left large, more secure bases to live in small combat outposts and to patrol hostile neighborhoods where the risk of insurgents targeting them has multiplied.

Highlighting the vulnerability of American forces, a series of explosions last night rocked Baghdad's Green Zone, the most heavily secured enclave in the capital and home to thousands of US troops, Western diplomats, and Iraqi government officials.

"There is a duck-and-cover going on right now," said Lieutenant Colonel Christopher C. Garver, a US military spokesman, before quickly getting off the phone. Later, Garver confirmed there had been an assault on the Green Zone, but it was unclear what had happened. Local Iraqi television stations reported 10 explosions inside the zone.

In eastern Baghdad on Sunday, a roadside bomb killed three US soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter who were on patrol, the military said. Attackers shot dead another soldier in the same section of the capital on Saturday. Meanwhile, a Marine was killed in the Sunni insurgent bastion of Anbar Province, west of Baghdad. On Saturday, the military reported four US soldiers had been killed on that day.

Before the deaths announced yesterday, 99 US soldiers had been killed during April, according to iCasualties.org, an independent website that monitors military deaths. Nearly half have died in and around Baghdad, with the next greatest number of deaths occurring in Anbar and Diyala provinces. In December, 112 US troops were killed.

With 11 combat deaths, April also was the deadliest month for British troops in Iraq since the beginning of the war, when 27 soldiers were killed in March 2003. This month's British casualties highlighted the growing tensions in southern Iraq as Shi'ite groups clash for power and Britain prepares to draw down its forces.

The deaths came as the largest bloc of Sunnis in Iraq's parliament, the Iraqi Accordance Front, threatened to pull out its ministers from the Cabinet, saying that it "had lost hope" in having Sunni concerns addressed by the Shi'ite-led government. The threat prompted President Bush to phone one of Iraq's two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, in an attempt to defuse the potential political crisis, Hashimi's office said in a statement. A Sunni withdrawal could seriously hamper efforts at national reconciliation and further weaken the government. Only two weeks ago, six Cabinet ministers loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr resigned from the Cabinet.

In the province of Diyala, where scores of fighters have fled to escape the Baghdad security offensive, a car bomb exploded near a funeral tent in the town of Khalis, killing 22 and wounding 35, said Lieutenant Mohammed Hakman of the Diyala police Joint Coordination Center.

Police said they expected the toll to rise. The strike came four days after a suicide attacker detonated a car packed with bombs at a checkpoint in the town, 50 miles north of Baghdad, killing 10 Iraqi soldiers.

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