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US military deaths rise in Iraq after 5-month fall

By Staff
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WASHINGTON, Apr 18 (Reuters) US military deaths in Iraq have risen sharply in April -- after five straight months of decline -- amid warnings by American officials that the failure to form a new Iraqi government has helped perpetuate violence.

Last month, there were 31 US military fatalities, the fewest since 20 died in February 2004 in the lowest monthly toll of the 3-year-old war. So far this month, which is a bit more than half over, there have been at least 48 American fatalities, according to a count of military death announcements.

Many of the deaths again occurred in Anbar province, one of the hotbeds of the insurgency led primarily by the Sunni Muslim Arab minority who had controlled the country under deposed President Saddam Hussein.

There have been 2,378 US military deaths in the war, the Pentagon said, with another 17,549 US troops wounded in action. The average monthly US military death toll in the war has been 65.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a senior US military spokesman in Iraq, said there currently was ''a high tempo of operations'' against insurgents. Johnson noted that US commanders had raised by about 3,700 the number of American-trained Iraqi government security forces and US troops in Baghdad for increased patrols.

''We're not prepared to attribute this to any changing trend that's occurred over the past two weeks. Each incident stands on its own,'' Johnson said by e-mail, referring to the increase in US deaths in April.

''I really believe it is premature for anybody to be talking about trends regarding incidents that have occurred over a two-week period,'' Johnson said.

Amid worrisome sectarian violence, Iraqi leaders have been unable to fashion a new government since December. 15 parliamentary elections. US officials have urged the creation of a ''unity government,'' distributing power among Iraq's rival Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds.

During a visit to Baghdad on April 3, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told Iraqi leaders that the absence of a permanent government was undermining security in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has raised similar concerns, and President George W. Bush has urged Iraqi leaders to resolve their differences.

The United States has 132,000 troops in Iraq.

April 2 was the deadliest single day for U.S. forces in Iraq since January, with 12 U.S. troops dying, although seven died in noncombat-related incidents.

Since reaching 96 last October, US military deaths had fallen in every month since then, with 84 in November, 68 in December, 62 in January, 55 in February and 31 in March. US officials noted that insurgents had focused on Iraqi security forces and civilians during that period.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis also have died in the war.

REUTERS PDS PM0441

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