DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

U.S. forces launched pre-dawn raids in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in Baghdad today. They were searching for what they said were Iranian-backed militants. U.S. officials said they killed 26 Iraqis in an intense firefight. Today is the last day of what's been another bloody month for U.S. forces in Iraq. For the third month, Americans have lost more than 100 soldiers.

NPR's Rachel Martin is on the line for Baghdad. Rachel, the surge is up to full force now and U.S. troops are about two weeks into an offensive in Iraq. What's been the result so far?

RACHEL MARTIN: Well, Debbie, commanders on the ground here point to some early successes. They say that they've captured or killed dozens of insurgency leaders. They have cleared out strongholds. And they have destroyed a lot of weapons stockpile.

Just today, as you mentioned, U.S. forces conducted a raid in Sadr City. That's the heavily Shiite part of Baghdad. And U.S. military reports say U.S. troops killed more than two-dozen militants. There are, however, differing reports about how many civilians were killed, if any at all. Some Iraqi police there say that there were some civilians who were killed in that attack. U.S. officials deny that.

Overall, military commanders are pointing to some moderate successes. The Pentagon says there is evidence to show that sectarian violence is down in Baghdad. Military officials here also say that 50 percent roughly of Baghdad is now in the control of U.S. or Iraqi security forces. But there have been some costs. At least 330 U.S. soldiers have been killed since April.

ELLIOTT: How was the military explaining the rising casualty toll?

MARTIN: Well, they're quick to point out that this is the most significant series of operations by U.S. troops here since the initial invasion in 2003. So there's heavy fighting going on. And in this kind of environment, in this elevated level of aggressiveness, there are going to be more casualties.

They also say that they're still facing an ongoing threat from roadside bombs. And these attacks are appearing to get more sophisticated. Just last Thursday, five U.S. soldiers were hit with a roadside bomb and they were killed in that attack.

The bomb was followed up by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade fire, and that's something that U.S. military commanders say is a relatively new development and is making us an even tougher fight.

ELLIOTT: Rachel, you spent some time earlier this week with the top commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus. What is his take on how the search is going?

MARTIN: General Petraeus likes to talk about how many small businesses are open, how many kids are in school, and how many people are out on the streets. And there are parts of Iraq and Baghdad where you can see signs of life like that.

Petraeus talks about those as positive signs, but he also acknowledges that this fight is far from won. There are car bombs, assassinations and organized crime that still plagued this city.

ELLIOTT: Rachel, there's one other development out of Iraq today that we need to ask you about. The military announced the murder charges against two soldiers for the murder of three Iraqis. What details do you have about that?

MARTIN: Well, we don't know a whole lot. We do know these soldiers are accused of killing three Iraqis in separate incidents and implanting weapons on the remains of the victims. The alleged crimes took place sometime between April and June of this year and happened in the area of Iskandariyah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad.

And U.S. military identified the two accused as Staff Sergeant Michael Hensley from North Carolina, Specialist Jorge Sandoval from Texas. And both men have now been detained and placed in military confinement.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Rachel Martin in Baghdad. Thank you.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

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