U.S. military officials are concerned that some attacks on Americans have been coordinated by a few of the numerous Iraqi civilians hired by the U.S. military, who may glean intelligence on troop movements and travels of high-ranking officers, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told reporters at the Baghdad Convention Center.
"Clearly those are concerns we have. We try to do the vetting (of Iraqi employees) as close as we can," he said. "There have been instances when police were coordinating attacks against the coalition and against the people."
The United States suspects al Qaeda operatives have taken part in the long string of attacks on U.S. and Iraqi targets, but has no conclusive evidence of involvement, Sanchez said.
At least 75 U.S. soldiers have died so far in Iraq in November, making it the deadliest month for American troops since the U.S.-led coalition invaded on March 20, according to statistics compiled Saturday by The Associated Press.
In other developments:
A total of 436 U.S. soldiers have died since the start of the war, according to the Pentagon and the latest casualty figures released by the U.S. military in Baghdad. They include 299 soldiers killed in combat and others who died from other causes such as accidents.
Seventy-five soldiers from other allied nations — including 52 from Britain and 17 from Italy — also have died, bringing the total number of coalition deaths since the war started to over 500.
The U.S.-led occupation authorities in Baghdad say they do not have a number for Iraqi deaths. A survey by the Associated Press documented at least 3,240 civilians killed during the invasion between March 20 and April 20. The real number is believed to be much higher.
A tally of all reports of U.S. military fatalities released by the U.S.
command and compiled by the AP showed that at least 75 American soldiers have died since the start of November, surpassing deaths recorded in any previous month since the invasion.
Until November, the deadliest month was April, when 73 troops died at the height of the war. The single deadliest day was March 23, when 30 U.S. soldiers died.
President Bush declared major combat over May 1.
It was not possible to ascertain the breakdown of combat deaths and those resulting from other causes in November, because many of the fatalities have yet to be officially classified.
One of those is the single bloodiest incident of the month — the collision of two Black Hawk helicopters during an anti-insurgency operation in Mosul on Nov. 15 in which 17 troops were killed. While initial reports from the scene said the crash occurred when one of the choppers was struck by ground fire, the military says its investigation isn't finished.
Over half of the U.S. deaths this month occurred in helicopter crashes in Mosul, Fallujah and Tikrit, while most others resulted from ambushes involving roadside bombs or rocket-propelled grenades.
Since the start of military operations, 2,094 U.S. service members have been injured as a result of hostile action, according to the Defense Department's figures as of Wednesday. The number of soldiers injured in non-hostile incidents was 350.
Sanchez said the insurgency was becoming particularly bloody for Iraqi civilians. Guerrillas launched more than 150 attacks on Iraqi civilian and police targets, killing scores during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended last week.
Sanchez also said the United States is boosting the number of infantrymen in Iraq and moving from a force based on tanks and heavy armored vehicles to one specializing in urban raids.
A new phase in the Iraq war, known as Iraqi Freedom II, would begin as current forces are rotated out of Iraq and replaced by new units, including several thousand U.S. Marines, Sanchez said.
"We are going to change the composition of our forces," Sanchez said. "We'll have more infantry. We're moving to a more mobile force, one that has the right blend of light and heavy."
Sanchez said he saw no need for an overall increase in U.S. forces in Iraq, and the number of troops would decrease as transportation, logistics and communications personnel are sent home.
The general said some support troops are being replaced by civilian contractors, in the case of transportation and logistics. The military also is starting to use commercial sources for communications, he said, thus allowing more soldiers to depart.
Washington currently has 130,000 troops in Iraq.
The Department of Defense had announced this month that the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq would drop to about 105,000 after troop rotations that start in January are completed in May. But the additional marines appear to bump up that total to 110,000.
"There's no way we're going to put this mission at risk in terms of combat power," Sanchez said, explaining the need for the marines, whose normal tasks tend toward invasions, not occupation duties.
"What we're in search of is a very mobile, very flexible, lethal force that can accomplish its mission. Those terms are dictated by the enemy."