U.S. deaths near grim Memorial Day mark
BAGHDAD – Americans have opened nearly 1,000 new graves to bury U.S. troops killed in Iraq since Memorial Day a year ago. The figure is telling – and expected to rise in coming months.
In the period from Memorial Day 2006 through Saturday, 980 soldiers and Marines died in Iraq, compared to 807 deaths in the previous year. And with the Baghdad security operation now 3 1/2 months old, even President Bush has predicted a difficult summer for U.S. forces.
“It could be a bloody – it could be a very difficult August,” he said last week.
U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus on Saturday acknowledged the increase in casualties as a result of the American surge in forces to regain control of Baghdad.
“We’re doing heavy fighting. This is a fight. There’s a war on out there,” he told reporters at al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq.
U.S. forces raided an al-Qaida hide-out northeast of Baghdad on Sunday and freed 42 Iraqis imprisoned inside, including some who had been tortured and suffered broken bones, a senior U.S. military official said Sunday.
The raid was part of a 3-month-old security crackdown that included the deployment of 3,000 more U.S. troops to Diyala, a violent province north of the capital that has seen heavy fighting in recent weeks, said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.
Caldwell said Iraqis told U.S. forces about the hide-out: “The people in Diyala are speaking up against al-Qaida.”
He said the 42 freed Iraqis marked the largest number of captives ever found in a single al-Qaida prison. Some of those freed were held for as long as four months and some had injuries from torture and were taken to medical facilities for treatment, he said.
Two American soldiers were killed when explosions hit their patrols this weekend _ one in Diyala and one in western Baghdad, the military reported Sunday.
Also Sunday, U.S. and Iraqi troops raided Baghdad’s Sadr City slum, targeting Shiite insurgent cells there for a second day and arresting a suspect believed involved in smuggling armor piercing bombs from Iran, the military said. The cell has also sent Iraqi militants to Iran for training, the statement said.
During another raid in Sadr City, troops shot an approaching vehicle that ignored signals to stop, the military said. No one was injured in the shooting, but the vehicle was set ablaze, the military said.
AP Television News footage showed several cars burned in the street, including a van that was scorched black, had its windows knocked out and its upholstery incinerated. The footage also showed a house that appeared to have been ransacked.
Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric who emerged from months in hiding last week, met Sunday in Najaf with leaders of his movement to discuss Iraq’s security and political situation, said Salah al-Obeidi, a senior aide to al-Sadr.
“The occupation forces bear responsibility for the suffering the country is facing and there is no solution but the withdrawal of the forces,” said al-Obeidi, echoing demands al-Sadr made in the sermon he delivered after reappearing Friday.
Al-Sadr’s Shiite Mahdi Army militia has repeatedly battled with U.S. and British troops in the streets of Sadr City and Basra, where British troops killed one of the cleric’s commanders in a gunfight Friday.
After two days of pitched fighting with the Shiite militants, the British carried out an arrest raid early Sunday. During the raid, their forces were attacked with roadside bombs, rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire, the British said. The troops returned fire, killing three of their attackers and arresting four militants. No British forces were injured.
Meanwhile, in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, 70 police officers resigned Sunday morning and handed over their weapons. They cited their fears of being targeted by Mahdi Army militants, police said.
On Sunday, gunmen in two cars threw concussion grenades at a popular market in northern Baghdad and then opened fire at shoppers, killing one person and injuring eight, police said. The gunmen later ambushed a minibus, killing the driver, stealing the vehicle and abducting six passengers, police said.
In other violence, gunmen shot up the car of Lt. Col. Hiyis al-Jubouri, a police commander in the northern Salahuddin province, killing him and another police officer, police said.
Gunmen also attacked a group of farmers in the al-Nahrawan district, 10 miles east of Baghdad, killing two and injuring nine, police said.
The U.S. military also reported late Saturday the deaths of eight U.S. troops, bringing the number of soldiers killed so far this month to at least 100 and putting May on pace to become the deadliest month for U.S. troops here in more than 2 1/2 years.
On Monday, Iranian and U.S. diplomats were scheduled to hold rare talks in Baghdad over how to end the violence in Iraq. U.S. officials accuse Shiite-ruled Iran of training, financing and arming militants here, in a bid to fan sectarian tensions. Iran denies that and blames the presence of U.S. forces here for the violence.