U.S. Casualties Rise in Iraq as Mission Grows Lethal

The Pentagon confirms the deaths of 10 more American soldiers in Iraq in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll for October to 69. The Muslim season of Ramadan has been violent in each of the four years U.S. troops have been in Iraq.

But this year, as American troops get more involved in the struggle for control of Baghdad, they are increasingly caught in a crossfire between Shiite and Sunni militias gunning for one another.

The deadliest month for American troops in the war was November of 2004, when 137 died, most of them fighting to recapture Falluja.

But as a more complex battle rages within the Iraqi capital, military analyst John Pike says October may see casualties again approaching that level.

"October, at the rate we're at now," Pike says, "it looks like there will be well over 100 Americans killed in action and well over one-thousand wounded this month."

The key number, says Pike, director of the site Globalsecurity.org, is the number of wounded. The number of U.S. troops injured in October is on pace to exceed even the spike recorded last month, when 776 were wounded, along with roughly 75 killed in action.

The biggest threat in the war for Americans has been from IEDs, or improvised explosive devices. But that has changed in Baghdad, where troops have engaged in firefights with insurgents.

"Small-arms combat, when they're doing these clearing actions," Pike says, "is the sort of thing that the body armor will protect them against" — leaving soldiers alive, but wounded after a conflict.

Retired Maj. Gen. Bob Scales, former commandant of the Army War College, says the deadliest spot for U.S. soldiers and Marines is in the capital.

"Both the enemy and the coalition realizes that the center of gravity in this war is Baghdad," Scales says.

"You can put a pin in the map in the middle of Baghdad and draw a 30-mile circle around and you will embrace probably 95 percent of the serious combat that has caused most of the U-S casualties."

The American mission in Iraq has been bedeviled not only by a Sunni-led insurgency — but also by Sunni and Shiite militias waging a factional war for control of Iraq.

Gen. Scales and others say the key to improving the security situation in Baghdad is in upgrading Iraq's police force — which, in Baghdad at least, is heavily infiltrated by Shiite militias.

It is only after that problem is addressed, Scales and others say, that the daily level of violence can be lowered — and more of a police action than a full-scale military battle.

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