Baghdad, Iraq The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Monday that he had requested two more brigades of troops, perhaps as many as 14,000 soldiers, to help quell the worst outbreak of fighting in Iraq since the American-led occupation began more than a year ago.
Evidence mounted Monday that coalition forces were losing control of the roads in Iraq as another supply convoy was set ablaze and officials announced that nine more Americans were missing.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said 70 Americans and roughly 700 Iraqis had died since April 1, making the past 12 days the deadliest of the war. The military reported Monday that three Marines near Fallujah and a soldier in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, were killed Sunday, even as a cease-fire in the embattled city generally held.
Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, which handles operations in the Middle East, refused to say in a teleconference Monday how many more troops would be needed in Iraq or how long they would stay. He said he was requesting "a strong, mobile combat-arms capability" of "two brigades' worth of combat power, if not more." A mechanized combat brigade generally numbers anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 troops.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the two additional brigades would come from fresh units in the United States or forces already in Iraq and Kuwait but scheduled to come home, senior defense officials said. Abizaid said he was working on details of the request with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he refused to say which units were under consideration.
Seven U.S. contract workers and two American soldiers were missing after their convoy came under attack Friday. Seven Chinese were released Monday after a day of captivity followed their entry into the country from Jordan. Three Japanese hostages captured Thursday weren't released, contrary to a Japanese news report Sunday, and their fate remained uncertain throughout the day.
The latest kidnappings raised to more than 40 the people taken in the past week, from 12 countries.
Contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, confirmed that seven of its employees were missing, including Thomas Hamill, 42, who's known to be kidnapped. The company said it was continuing to send several hundred employees a week to Kuwait and Iraq.
Also on Monday, an Iraqi police car in Baqouba hit a homemade bomb. An internal coalition security memo noted that an Apache helicopter shot down Sunday was the seventh aircraft shot down or sustaining "effective small-arms fire in the last four days," including five in Baghdad. Eight convoy trucks have been destroyed since Sunday in the capital on the road to Baghdad International Airport.
Kimmitt noted that the situation in Iraq wasn't "business as usual."
"There are people out there taking hostages, kidnapping people," he said. "But we are restoring a tremendous amount of order."
He added that the number of coalition engagements with the enemy last week was two or three times above normal and the coalition was concerned about the enemy's ability to strike convoys.
Still, President Bush said Monday in Texas that the situation in Iraq was improving, "after a bad week."
The cease-fire in Fallujah, the site of much of the most intense fighting last week, seemed to hold for a third day. The Marines added another battalion of infantry Sunday, and Monday there were 2,000 Marines in and around the city, taking occasional drive-by fire.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of American forces in Iraq, said in the teleconference that U.S. forces had retaken Kut and Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. He acknowledged that Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia still controlled Najaf and parts of Karbala -- both Shiite spiritual centers -- though he said coalition forces had cordoned off both cities in preparation for moving against al-Sadr, who is believed to be in Najaf.
"The mission of the U.S. forces is to kill or capture Muqtada al-Sadr. That's our mission," he said.