U.S. Troop Deaths In Iraq Exceed 9/11 Toll

A U.S. soldier from the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment looks on during an anti-American demonstration in Baghdad, Monday, Dec. 25, 2006. Soldiers went house to house searching for weapons and bomb-making materials, touching off a protest that forced them to cut the mission short in some parts of the city. AP Photo/Dark Vojinovic

The U.S. military announced the deaths of seven American soldiers Tuesday, raising the U.S. death toll since the beginning of the Iraq war to at least 2,978 — five more than the number of people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.

At least 54 Iraqis also died in bombings on Tuesday, officials said, including a coordinated strike that killed 25 in western Baghdad.

The three coordinated car bombs in western Baghdad injured at least 55 people, a doctor at Yarmouk hospital, where the victims were taken, said on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns. The attacks occurred in a mixed Sunni and Shiite neighborhood.

In other attacks, a car bomb exploded near a Sunni mosque in northern Baghdad at the beginning of the evening rush hour, killing 17 people and wounding 35, a doctor at Al-Nuaman hospital said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

A bomb also exploded in a central Baghdad market, killing four people and wounding 15, police said. Two roadside bombs targeted an Iraqi police patrol in an eastern neighborhood of the capital, killing four policemen and injuring 12 people.

In Kirkuk, 180 miles north of the Iraqi capital, a roadside bomb killed three civilians — including an 8-year-old girl — and wounded six other people, police said.

The tragic milestone for the U.S. military was reached with the deaths of seven soldiers Monday and Tuesday in bombings and other violence in the war-torn country.

Tuesday, a bomb killed three American soldiers and wounded one northwest of Baghdad.

"The patrol was conducting a route clearance mission when a roadside bomb exploded near them," the military said.

Two of the soldiers killed Monday were in their vehicle when a roadside bomb went off southwest of Baghdad, the military said.

"The joint patrol was conducting security operations in order to stop terrorists from placing roadside bombs in the area," it said in a statement on the latest deaths. "As they conducted their mission, a roadside bomb exploded near one of their vehicles."

In a separate incident, another soldier was killed in an explosion while on a foot patrol in the same area, a second statement said. Three soldiers were wounded in the incidents, the military said.

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks claimed 2,973 victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Opponents of President Bush have criticized him for raising the attacks as a justification for the protracted fight in Iraq.

Prior to the deaths announced Tuesday, the AP count was 15 higher than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Friday at 10 a.m. EST. At least 2,377 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston reports that December is already the second deadliest month of 2006 for U.S. forces in Iraq. The depressing question now, Pinkston says, is whether the final figure will exceed October's of 106.

In Washington, White House Deputy Press Secretary Scott Stanzel said Tuesday that Mr. Bush grieves for each member of the armed forces who has died.

"The war on terror is going to be a long struggle," he said. "We will be fighting violent jihadists for the peace and security of the civilized world for many years to come."

The figures came as American troops fought gunmen in a Shiite militia stronghold Tuesday in east Baghdad, according to witnesses. Fighters loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr were engaged in clashes with U.S. forces in and near Sadr City, an official in al- Sadr's office said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Snipers from both sides were deployed on rooftops and helicopters hovered overhead, he said. Explosions were heard throughout the area.

An Associated Press reporter in the area said U.S. troops exchanged fire with gunmen.

Another sobering statistic; Iraqi officials report that 12,000 national police officers have been killed since the invasion in 2003, says Pinkston

In other developments:

  • An Iraqi appeals court has upheld the death sentence for Saddam Hussein, Iraq's national security adviser said Tuesday. "The appeals court approved the verdict to hang Saddam," said the official, Mouwafak al-Rubaie. The sentence "must be implemented within 30 days," chief judge Aref Shahin. "From tomorrow, any day could be the day of implementation."

  • A top Senate Democrat said he will fight President Bush if the administration decides to send more U.S. troops to Iraq. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a likely presidential candidate, also warned that if congressional Republicans do not join him in speaking out against Mr. Bush that they – not Democrats – will suffer in the 2008 elections.

  • Two senior defense officials say Defense Secretary Robert Gates has signed orders that will send a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division to Kuwait. The soldiers are expected to be deployed into Iraq early next year. The 82nd Airborne unit, which would include as many as 3,300 soldiers, will replace a Marine unit that had served as the reserve force based in Kuwait but has been deployed into Iraq.

  • The White House said Monday that U.S. troops in Iraq detained at least two Iranians and released two others who had diplomatic immunity. CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports the Iranians were captured in two raids last week and are suspected of planning attacks on U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

  • British soldiers were on alert for reprisals Tuesday a day after they raided a police station in the southern city of Basra, killing seven gunmen in an effort to stop renegade Iraqi officers from executing their prisoners.

  • Randall Pinkston American soldiers at Camp Victory in Baghdad held onto as much of the holiday spirit as they could on Christmas Day, away from home and family.
    • Sean Alfano

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