This year deadliest for US troops in Iraq

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BAGHDAD, Nov 6 (Reuters) Seven US soldiers were killed in Iraq yesterday, the US military said, making 2007 the deadliest year for US forces in the country.

The deaths, one of the highest daily tolls in weeks, took the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq this year to 853. The worst previous year was 2004, when 849 deaths were recorded.

In total, 3,856 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.

''We lost five soldiers yesterday in two unfortunate incidents, both involving IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices),'' US military spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith told reporters in Baghdad today.

The military said both attacks took place in Kirkuk province near the volatile oil-refining city of Baiji, 180 km (112 miles) north of Baghdad. In the worst incident, four soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle.

A sixth soldier was killed in western Anbar province, once one of the most dangerous places in Iraq for US troops but now seen as a success story for US President George W Bush's new Iraq strategy since Sunni tribes there turned against al Qaeda.

A sailor was also killed yesterday in an explosion during operations in Salahuddin province, the military said.

US forces in Iraq say a major build-up of troops since February has helped stem sectarian violence and reduced the number of insurgent attacks on coalition forces.

Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno, the second-ranking U.S.

commander in Iraq, told a Pentagon briefing last week there had been a five-month decline in combat deaths.

Odierno said insurgent attacks had been on a steady downward trend since June, with roadside bomb blasts in particular sharply down in the last four months.

Independent Web site icasualties.org, which monitors US troop deaths, said 38 US soldiers were killed in October, the lowest death toll since March 2006.

The deadliest month so far in 2007 was May, when 126 U.S.

soldiers were killed, and the deadliest quarter was April to June, when 331 died.

US forces completed their build-up of an extra 30,000 troops in mid-June and swiftly launched a series of military operations against al Qaeda in Iraq, other Sunni Arab militants and Shi'ite militia groups around Baghdad.

Troops were moved out of their large bases into smaller combat outposts in neighbourhoods. Soldiers also went into areas previously viewed as no-go zones, exposing them to frequent roadside bomb and sniper attacks that took a deadly toll.

REUTERS NC RK2306

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