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Bloody Milestone For GIs In Iraq

The U.S. military death toll in Iraq rose by at least three Monday and the November total is approaching the highest for any month since the American-led invasion was launched in March 2003.

At least 133 U.S. troops have died in Iraq so far this month — only the second time it has topped 100 in any month. The deadliest month was last April when 135 U.S. troops died as the insurgency flared in Sunni-dominated Fallujah, where dozens of U.S. troops died this month.

The Pentagon's official death toll for Iraq stood at 1,251 on Monday, but that did not include two soldiers killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad and another killed in a vehicle accident. When the month began, the death toll stood at 1,121, the Pentagon said.

It was not clear whether the bombing deaths of two Marines south of Baghdad on Sunday were included in the overall count the Pentagon published Monday.

Combat injuries also have increased this month due to the fierce fighting in Fallujah. Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington reported Monday that it received 32 additional battle casualties from Iraq over the past two weeks. One was in critical condition. All 32 had been treated earlier at the Army's main hospital in Europe, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

In other developments:

  • A claim by Iraq's most feared terror group that it is behind the slaughter of Iraqi security force members in Mosul has raised fears that it has expanded to the north after losing its purported base in Fallujah. a statement posted on an Islamist Web site in the name of al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for killing 17 members of Iraq's security forces and a Kurdish militiaman in Mosul.
  • The governor of Iraq's Shiite-dominated Najaf province says police have arrested his own security chief in an alleged plot to assassinate him. The governor says the security official was "planning to establish a terrorist cell." The governor and other top regional officials were the alleged targets.
  • A car bomb exploded on Monday at a police checkpoint in western Iraq, killing and injuring several members of the government's security forces, a police spokesman said. The attack took place in the town of Baghdadi, about 120 miles northwest of the capital, police Lt. Mohammed al-Fehdawi said. "Many policeman and National Guardsmen were killed, but we didn't have a figure yet," al-Fehdawi said. Al-Jazeera television put the casualty toll at six dead and nine injured.
  • Oil exports from Iraq's southern ports were back to normal Monday after sabotage damaged the country's main pipeline in the south, officials said. The line, which connects the southern Rumailah fields with the Basra port, was broken Saturday, causing a major oil leak. The pipeline caught fire Sunday during repair work.
  • Late Sunday, insurgents fired mortars at a multinational checkpoint guarding a bridge near Suwayrah in the Polish-led zone south of Baghdad. The Polish command said troops at the checkpoint returned fire but there were no casualties.

    Some of the most severe injuries — and many of the deaths — among U.S. troops in Iraq are inflicted by the insurgents' homemade bombs, which the military calls improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

    U.S. forces have put extraordinary effort into countering the IED threat, yet it persists. U.S. troops in Fallujah reported finding nearly as many homemade explosives over the past three weeks as had been uncovered throughout Iraq in the previous four months combined.

    In recent action in Fallujah, troops found at least 650 homemade bombs, Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said Monday. That compares with 722 found throughout the country between July 1 and October 31.

    The IEDs are rigged to detonate by remote control and often are hidden along roadways used by U.S. forces, to deadly effect.

    Since U.S. forces invaded Fallujah on Nov. 8 to regain control from insurgents, they have found about a dozen IED "factories," a number of vehicles being modified to serve as car bombs, and at least 10 surface-to-air missiles capable of downing aircraft, Whitman said.

    More than half of the approximately 100 mosques in Fallujah were used as fighting positions or weapon storage sites, Whitman said, citing a U.S. military report that has not been released publicly.

    U.S. officials knew insurgents had used Fallujah as a haven from which to plan and organize resources for attacks in Baghdad and other cities in the so-called Sunni Triangle north and west of the capital, but the amount of weapons found exceeded expectations.

    Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference last Tuesday that the kinds and amount of weapons found in Fallujah indicated the insurgents pose a serious and continuing threat.

    "No doubt attacks will continue in the weeks and months ahead, and perhaps intensify as the Iraqi election approaches," Rumsfeld said, referring to national elections scheduled for Jan. 30.

    Whitman said other discoveries in Fallujah include:

  • Plastic explosives and TNT.
  • A hand-held Global Positioning System receiver for use in navigation.
  • Makeshift shoulder-fired rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, 122mm rockets and thousands of mortar rounds.
  • An anti-aircraft artillery gun.
  • More than 200 major weapons storage areas.

    At the State Department, meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters Monday there is no reason Iraq should not hold its Jan. 30 elections as scheduled, despite the insurgency.

    "We are working hard on it," he said.

    The United Nations has increased its presence in the country, thousands of Iraqis are working on registration and "we are encouraging all parties to participate in the political process, especially in the Sunni heartland," Powell said.

    "An election is the way forward," Powell said. "It's the means by which the Iraqi people can say to the world, we want to live in democracy, we want to be able to choose our leaders, and not let these individuals who are using car bombs to murder innocent people" be allowed to succeed.

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