U.S. death toll rises as it digs in against Iraq's Shiite militias
At least 47 US soldiers were killed in Iraq in April, making it the deadliest month since September. Many of the casualties are a result of the recent assault on the Mahdi Army.
The American military's participation in the war declared by Iraqi authorities on Moqtada al-Sadr's Shiite militia – a fight that in recent weeks has been carried out through intense street battles – has led to an uptick in US deaths.Skip to next paragraph
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The month of April ended with at least 47 soldiers killed, the highest monthly figure since September, when 65 died.
"We have said all along that this will continue to be a tough fight," says Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, spokesman for Multi-National Forces in Iraq. "The increase [in US casualties] reflects the challenge our concerted effort [with Iraqi security forces] has faced as we work to keep Al Qaeda from reestablishing safe havens.… At the same time, we are acting alongside the government of Iraq as it goes up against these [Shiite militants] and criminals who are trying to establish themselves here in Baghdad and in other places."
Though still less than half the level of the worst months of a year ago, the April figure is a jump from recent totals that had gone as low as 23 in December, according to the Pentagon and the website icasualties.org that tracks coalition deaths in Iraq.
The increase corresponds to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision in late March to gain control over Mr. Sadr's strongholds in Baghdad and the southern city of Basra where the Shiite cleric's Mahdi Army is most active.
568 Iraqi civilian deaths in April
Daily street clashes are also taking a heavy toll on Sadr City's civilians. More than 400 people have died in the neighborhood fighting, though Iraqi officials and local leaders differ over how many of those were civilians and how many were fighters.
Still, a tally of civilian deaths kept by icasualties.org shows April ended with at least 568 Iraqi civilian deaths, well below the 819 civilian deaths listed for March. The site reported that 108 Iraqi security forces were killed in April.
The US participation in the Iraqi government's siege on the Mahdi Army has drawn US soldiers into some of the most heated fighting in Iraq in more than a year.
One example of how the battle with elements of the Mahdi Army has played a role in the jump in military casualties can be seen in the US campaign to stop the mounting barrage of rockets and mortars over recent weeks on the Green Zone, the fortified area of Baghdad where US and Iraqi government offices are located.
For several weeks the US military has attempted to push the militants who formed rocket-launching teams out of the southern-most part of Sadr City. The Green Zone is easily within range of the smaller rockets and mortars – which the US says are mostly Iranian-made – that the militants have been firing from there.