BAGHDAD - Five more U.S. troops died in weekend attacks, pushing the death toll past 100 in the deadliest month for American forces since December, the military said yesterday as a wave of violence battered Iraqi civilians including a suicide bombing at a Shiite funeral.
The attack against the mourners north of Baghdad - claiming more than 30 lives - was the deadliest in a series of bombings and shootings that killed at least 102 people nationwide.
The rising U.S. toll also pointed to a potentially deadly trend: More troops exposed to more dangers as they try to reclaim control of Baghdad.
All but one of the latest U.S. deaths occurred in Iraq's capital, where a nearly 11-week security crackdown has put thousands of additional American soldiers on the streets - making them targets for both Shiite and Sunni extremists.
In a statement yesterday, the U.S. command said three American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were killed by a roadside bomb the day before in eastern Baghdad. Another U.S. soldier was killed Saturday by small-arms fire in the same area, the statement said.
A Marine died in combat Sunday in Anbar province, a Sunni insurgent stronghold west of the capital, the military said.
The deaths brought the number of American service members killed in Iraq during April to 104 - eight fewer than December's toll of 112 and the sixth-highest figure for a single month since the war started in March 2003.
While American casualties are rising, U.S. officials say the Baghdad crackdown has reduced civilian deaths in the capital since the security operation was launched Feb. 14. But figures compiled by the Associated Press from police reports show a rise in civilian casualties outside the capital, where extremists have taken refuge to avoid the Baghdad operation.
Police said 32 people were killed and 63 wounded when a suicide bomber struck the Shiite funeral in Khalis, about 50 miles north of Baghdad. The bomber walked into a tent filled with mourners and detonated a belt of explosives hidden beneath his clothes, police said.
Attacks on funeral gatherings are not uncommon. Suicide attacks are the hallmark of Sunni religious extremists, notably al-Qaeda in Iraq.
"I saw panicked people running from outside the tent," said a mobile-telephone dealer who was walking toward the tent when the bomber struck. "It was the most horrible scene I ever witnessed. I was shocked that somebody could commit this crime against people who were honoring a dead person."
The witness, who refused to give his name out of fear for his safety, said the bomber timed the attack for early evening, when large numbers of mourners usually arrive for food provided by the family of the deceased.
Officials said the funeral was for a Shiite man who died of natural causes but who has about 20 relatives in the army and police. Four days ago, a suicide car bomber killed 10 Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint in Khalis, a mostly Shiite town in a predominantly Sunni area. Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility.
On Other Fronts
Thunderous explosions rocked central Baghdad last night - apparently from rockets fired toward the U.S.- controlled Green Zone. Warning sirens sounded in the heavily protected district, and witnesses saw smoke rising from the area. The U.S. military said it had
no immediate information about damage or casualties.
The rockets appeared to come from a part of eastern Baghdad. The barrage suggested that Shiite gangs could be regrouping there after falling back when the Baghdad security sweeps began.
In all, at least 102 people were killed or found dead nationwide yesterday, police reported. They included 27 bullet-riddled bodies found in Baghdad, apparent victims of sectarian death squads.
In a Web posting,
an al-Qaeda front organization - the Islamic State in Iraq - announced that it was preparing a "long-term war of attrition" in
Anbar province against the Americans and
- Associated Press