December deadliest month of year for Americans in Iraq

Three more Marines and a soldier were killed in battle in Iraq, the military said Friday, making December the year’s deadliest month for U.S. troops with the toll reaching 108.

In violence Saturday, a bomb planted aboard a minibus exploded at a fish market south of Baghdad, killing 15 people. The explosion came hours after the execution of Saddam Hussein Saturday morning, but there was no indication that it was related.

The Marines, all assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, died Thursday of wounds from fighting in western Anbar province, the U.S. military said. The soldier was killed in Karmah Thursday by small arms fire, the military said. Separately, the family of another soldier said he died Wednesday in Texas of injuries suffered in Iraq.

Their deaths pushed the toll past the 105 U.S. service members killed in October. At least 2,997 members of the U.S. military have been killed since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an AP count. That count includes two soldiers the military has classified as Iraq casualties, but the AP has not confirmed as Iraq-related deaths.

The fish market explosion occurred in Kufa, 100 miles south of Baghdad, said Haidr Nahi, service director of the al-Furat al-Awssat Hospital. The 15 dead included three women and four children, he said. Some 25 others were wounded.

Before Saddam Hussein was hanged, American and Iraqi officials expressed concern about the potential for a spike in unrest.

Friday’s violence was not heavier than usual.

A suicide bomber killed at least nine people near a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, and 32 tortured bodies were found across the country.

American troops killed six people and destroyed a weapons cache in separate raids in Baghdad and northwest of the Iraqi capital, the U.S. military said. One of the raids targeted two buildings in the village of Thar Thar, where U.S. troops found 16 pounds of homemade explosives, two large bombs, a rocket-propelled grenade, suicide vests and multiple batteries, the military said.

Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops entered a mosque southeast of Baghdad, capturing 13 suspects and confiscating weapons, the U.S. military also said.

A suicide bomber wearing an explosives belt detonated himself near a Shiite mosque in Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding about a dozen, police said.

Twenty-two bodies showing signs of torture were found dumped on the streets of the Iraqi capital Friday, and 10 more were found in Baqouba northeast of Baghdad, police and morgue officials said.

December was shaping up to be one of the worst months for Iraqi civilian deaths since The Associated Press began keeping track in May 2005.

Through Thursday, at least 2,139 Iraqis have been killed in war-related or sectarian violence, an average rate of about 76 people a day, according to an AP count. That compares to at least 2,184 killed in November at an average of about 70 a day, the worst month for Iraqi civilians deaths since May 2005. In October, AP counted at least 1,216 civilians killed.

The AP count includes civilians, government officials and police and security forces, and is considered a minimum based on AP reporting. The actual number is likely higher, as many killings go unreported.

Also Friday, gunmen killed two oil company employees in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, police said. A civilian was shot dead near his home in another attack in the same area.

Two more civilians and a policeman died in separate attacks in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, police said.

A round of mortar shells slammed into al-Maidan square in central Baghdad, wounding 10 people and damaging shops and buildings in the area, a police officer at Rissafa police station said on condition of anonymity out of security concerns.

A roadside bomb wounded three civilians in Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press