Eleven Iraqis and one U.S. Marine were killed Thursday as insurgents clashed with U.S. troops and blew up a school slated to serve as a polling center, pre-election violence that followed the deadliest day for U.S. troops since the war's start.
Another U.S. soldier died in an accident.
The Marine was killed and four others wounded when insurgents launched mortars at their base near Iskandariyah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad.
In Washington,and go to the polls despite relentless insurgent attacks. He said it was a "very discouraging" day when the U.S. death toll for the war rose above 1,400.
That figure was eclipsed when 30 U.S. Marines and one Navy sailor died in a helicopter crash in bad weather in the western desert, and six U.S. troops were killed in insurgent ambushes. That made Wednesday the deadliest single day for Americans since the Iraq war began nearly two years ago.
The helicopter, a CH-53E Super Stallion, was carrying personnel from the 1st Marine Division on a security mission in support of the election when it went down about 1:20 a.m. near the town of Rutbah, about 220 miles west of Baghdad, the military said.
The crash occurred during severe weather, but its cause was still under investigation, said Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command. An Accuweather map showed sandstorms Wednesday in the western region of Iraq near the Jordanian border where the crash took place.
All but three of the Marines had been based in Hawaii, according to Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.
In other developments:
The deadliest previous incident for U.S. troops was also a helicopter crash: a November 2003 collision of two Black Hawk helicopters that killed 17. Before Wednesday's bloodshed, the most Americans killed in one day came on the invasion's third day — March 23, 2003 — when 28 troops were killed during the U.S. military's drive to take Baghdad and topple Saddam Hussein.
The U.S. military has not seen such a high loss of life in one day in 15 years — since an explosion ripped through a gun turret on the USS Iowa during a training exercise in the Caribbean in April 1989, killing 47 sailors.
Iraqi security forces and civilians have borne the brunt of violence in Iraq, with bombings often killing scores of people at a time. More than 180 people were killed on March 2, 2004, during a string of suicide attacks at Shiite shrines in Karbala and Baghdad.
Violence has only increased ahead of Sunday's election, which will create a 275-member National Assembly and regional legislatures. Sunni Muslim extremists have threatened to sabotage the election, and many Sunni clerics have called for a boycott because of the presence of U.S. and other foreign troops.
The group calling itself al Qaeda in Iraq warned people to stay away from the polls, threatening attacks. "Oh people, be careful. Be careful not to be near the centers of infidelity and vice, the polling centers ... Don't blame us but blame yourselves" if harmed," a Web statement issued in the group's name said.