Archive for Monday, March 15, 2004

U.S. deaths in Iraq rise as anniversary nears

Friday marks year since war began

March 15, 2004


— After a period of weeks in which the number of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq had been decreasing, a spate of bombings over the past five days has killed nine troops, including a National Guard soldier who had just arrived in the country.

It was too early to tell whether the attacks since Wednesday signaled a trend. In recent months, the pace of American combat fatalities has diminished -- although there have been several massive bombings directed against Iraqi police and Shiite pilgrims.

According to Pentagon reports, 47 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in January, slightly more than the 40 recorded in December, but far less than the 82 deaths recorded in November. The figure fell to 20 deaths in February.

In the first 14 days of March, however, 15 U.S. service personnel were killed, as well as two American civilians working for the U.S.-led occupation authority who were apparently chased in their car near Karbala and killed by a group that included several Iraqi police.

The chief military spokesman here, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, said it was "too early to divine a pattern yet."

"I think it is more of a cluster than it is a pattern," he said of the recent deaths.

He also said it would be wrong to ascribe the casualties to the arrival of fresh, less-tested troops, noting that most of the nine soldiers killed since Wednesday were in units long based in Iraq. The U.S. military is in the midst of a massive troop rotation that will continue through May.

Kimmitt said the military had been hesitant to declare the decrease in the number of casualties since November a sign of progress, recognizing that it might be reversed. Attacks on U.S. troops for the past few months have been holding steady at between 18 and 22 per day, he said.

Fort Riley soldiers killed

In the worst of the recent attacks, a bomb blew up Saturday night in southeastern Baghdad, killing three Americans and wounding one. That assault was followed by another attack Sunday morning in which an explosive killed a newly arrived National Guard soldier.

The death toll in Iraq has surpassed 560 since the beginning of military operations in Iraq. The latest deaths reported by the U.S. military include Army Staff Sgt. Joe L. Dunigan Jr., 37, Belton, Texas, and Army Spc. Christopher K. Hill, 26, Ventura, Calif., who were killed Thursday, when their vehicle was hit by an explosive in Fallujah. Both were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan.¢ One soldier died Sunday at a combat hospital from injuries suffered in a morning blast in Baghdad.¢ Three soldiers from the 1st Armored Division were killed Saturday night by roadside bombs in Baghdad.

In addition, two 1st Infantry Division soldiers were killed and three were wounded Saturday in Tikrit. A roadside explosive detonated, and attackers followed with a fusillade of gunfire on the soldiers' three-vehicle convoy. The 1st Infantry has recently taken over control of north-central Iraq from the 4th Infantry Division.

Three U.S. soldiers died in bomb attacks north and west of Baghdad on Wednesday and Thursday.

The identities of those killed Saturday and Sunday have yet been released, pending notification of relatives. But the Pentagon has identified those killed in the earlier actions.

There were Staff Sgt. Joe L. Dunigan Jr., 37, of Belton, Texas, and Spc. Christopher K. Hill, 26, of Ventura Calif., who died Thursday when their vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device near Fallujah, the mainly Sunni region west of Baghdad that has been a hotspot of guerrilla activity. Both were stationed at Fort Riley, Kan.

Pfc. Bert. E. Hoyer, 23, of Ellsworth, Wis., was killed Wednesday when a bomb hit a convoy in Baquobah.

Sticking to story

Sunday in Washington, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stood by prewar assertions that Iraq posed an "imminent threat" to the United States despite assertions by the Bush administration's CIA director and its top Iraq weapons tracker that no weapons of mass destruction appear to have existed.

"We all believed that it is an urgent threat and I believe to this day that it was an urgent threat," Rice said of Iraq on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "And we are safer as a result because today Iraq is no longer going to be a state of weapons of mass destruction concern."

Rumsfeld at first reiterated his previous claim that neither he nor President Bush called Iraq an imminent threat. But he elaborated after being confronted with his own Sept. 19, 2002, statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, when he said, "There are a number of terrorist states pursuing weapons of mass destruction but no terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people than the regime of Saddam Hussein and Iraq."

Rumsfeld insisted weapons might still be found.

"It's a country the size of California," Rumsfeld said on CBS' "Face the Nation" program. "He could have hidden ... enough biological weapons in the hole that we found Saddam Hussein in to kill tens of thousands of people. So it's not as though we have certainty today."

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