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70 U.S. Troops Killed In Iraq This Month

Eleven more U.S. troops were slain in combat, the military said Wednesday, putting October on track to be the deadliest month for U.S. forces since the siege of Fallujah nearly two years ago.

The military says the sharp increase in U.S. casualties — 70 so far this month — is tied to Ramadan and a security crackdown that has left American forces more vulnerable to attack in Baghdad and its suburbs. Muslim tenets hold that fighting a foreign occupation force during Islam's holy month puts a believer especially close to God.

The latest American death took place Wednesday, when a soldier was killed after his patrol was attacked with small-arms fire south of Baghdad. Ten Americans were killed on Tuesday — nine soldiers and a Marine — the highest single-day combat death toll for U.S. forces since Jan. 5, when 11 service members were killed across Iraq. There have been days with a higher number of U.S. deaths, but not solely from combat.

October is now on track to be the deadliest month for American forces in Iraq since November 2004, when military offenses primarily in the then-insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, left 137 troops dead, 126 of them in combat.

As the death toll climbed for both U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians, who are being killed at a rate of 43 a day, the country's Shiite-dominated government remained under intense U.S. pressure to shut down Shiite militias.

Some members of the armed groups have fractured into uncontrolled, roaming death squads out for revenge against Sunni Arabs, the Muslim minority in Iraq who were politically and socially dominant until the fall of Saddam Hussein.

There have been growing signs in recent days of mounting strain between Washington and the wobbly government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who felt compelled during a conversation with President Bush this week to seek his assurances that the Americans were not going to dump him.

In other developments:

  • Four soldiers from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division will be court-martialed for the alleged rape of an Iraqi girl and the murder of her family, and two will face the death penalty, the military ordered Wednesday. Also, three Camp Pendleton Marines will face courts-martial on murder and kidnapping charges in the death of an Iraqi man in the town of Hamdania, but will not face the death penalty, the Marine Corps said.
  • A Kurdish witness at Saddam Hussein's genocide trial told the court Wednesday that he survived a massacre by running and falling into a ditch full of bodies as troops fired on his group of detainees. "It was really unbelievable, the number of people being killed like this."
  • Local Sunni and Shiite leaders were meeting in an attempt to resolve the fate of more than 40 people missing since their 13-car convoy was waylaid at a checkpoint on Sunday outside Balad, where almost 100 people were killed in five days of sectarian fighting. Residents blamed American forces — there is a base located right next door to Balad — for failing to intervene. But U.S. officials said they couldn't act until asked by Iraqi officials, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan.

    Despite the mounting death toll of U.S. troops this month, White House spokesman Tony Snow said they would not make President Bush reconsider his plans for Iraq.

    "No, his strategy is to win. The president understands not only the difficulty of it, but he grieves for the people who have served with valor," Snow said in Washington. "But as everybody says correctly, we've got to win. And that comes at a cost. And God bless the men and women who have risked their lives going into hostile areas because they do believe in the mission."

    Also supporting the president was Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., who said Mr. Bush has a plan to win the war in Iraq but is keeping it quiet, a statement Democrats pounced on Wednesday as reminiscent of comments made during another divisive war.

    Burns, at a debate Tuesday night with Democratic challenger Jon Tester, said he believes Bush has a plan to win — but added: "we're not going to tell you what our plan is."

    The administration is asking for patience, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently pointed out that the Iraqi government isn't even five months old — "less than a baseball season." But a Republican strategist close to the White House says there is "great concern" in the administration about Maliki's competence.

    The spiking American death toll has also compounded a period of intense violence among Iraqis. If current trends continue, October will be the deadliest month for Iraqis since the AP began tracking deaths in April 2005. So far this month, 775 Iraqis have been killed in war-related violence, an average of 43 a day.

    Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on Wednesday blamed American officials who ran Iraq before its own government took nominal control for bringing the country to the present state of chaos.

    "Had our friends listened to us, we would not be where we are today," Zebari said in an interview with The Associated Press.

    Asked which friends he was referring to, Zebari said:

    "The Americans, the Coalition (Provision Authority), the British. OK? Because they didn't listen to us. The did exactly what they wanted to do. ... Had they listened to us, we would have been someplace else (by now), really."

    It was an unusually harsh statement from Zebari, a Kurd, whose ethnic group owes much to the U.S. intervention in Iraq and for its virtual autonomy in the north of the country.

    A report in Britain's Financial Times on Wednesday said the White House is now pressuring Iraqi authorities to give amnesty to Sunni insurgents. That would be a surprising change for the Bush administration, which has resisted amnesty because it could potentially include fighters who have killed American troops.

    At the State Department, spokesman Tom Casey said a decision on amnesty would be left to the Iraqi government.

    "I wouldn't describe our position as pressuring them to do this now or at any particular moment except at a point when they feel their national reconciliation process has gone through its appropriate steps and they're ready to move forward with it," Casey said.

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