U.S. casualties rose to their highest monthly level in a year on Thursday, and 30 police and militants perished in series of running gun battles in Baqouba, a chaotic city north of Baghdad.
The U.S. military spokesman, meanwhile, said the capital's spiraling murder rate had eased since the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan early this week — possibly because of the massive deployment of U.S. troops searching for a missing soldier.
Police in Baqouba said at least 42 people were injured in the fighting there, while in Najaf, south of Baghdad, authorities temporarily closed Iraq's holiest Shiite shrine after receiving a tip that suicide bombers wearing explosives belts had infiltrated city.
The military released news of five new American deaths, those of a Navy sailor and four Marines, all of whom died in fighting Wednesday in the volatile Anbar province, west of Baghdad and a hotbed of the Sunni resistance to U.S. forces and their Iraqi government allies.
At least 96 U.S. troops have died so far this month, equaling the level for the whole of October 2005 — a factor in rising anti-war sentiment in the United States that has prompted calls for President Bush to change strategy.
Mr. Bush says he is dissatisfied with the way the war is going in Iraq, but he does not want the United States to pull out the troops or set timetables for withdrawal.
In related developments: President Bush is portraying Democratic calls for withdrawal from Iraq as a slap against U.S. troops. At a fund-raiser in Iowa on Thursday, the president said if America quits before the job is done, it will have "not honored the sacrifice of incredibly brave men and women." He says those troops know what's at stake in Iraq — and also "understand the consequences of early retreat." A Marine pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges of assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice in the death of an Iraqi civilian last April. Pfc. John J. Jodka III, 20, entered the pleas through his lawyer, Joseph Casas, and then began testifying. He was one of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman initially charged with murder, kidnapping, conspiracy, assault and housebreaking in the killing of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad in the Iraqi town of Hamdania. U.S. military officials say they've detained "a number" of people who might be connected to, or know about, the kidnapping of an American soldier in Baghdad. Gen. William Caldwell also says an "intensive" search continues, and that the Iraqi government is also helping. Fighting between police and suspected militia gunmen northeast of Baghdad on Thursday killed 30 people and wounded 42, the provincial police chief said. The fighting around Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of the capital, marked the latest outbreak of bloodshed involving militants believed to be members of the Mahdi Army militia loyal to hard-line anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
© 2006 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.