Military deaths drop in Iraq war

Sixty-three U.S. military deaths were reported in September, the lowest monthly toll since July 2006, according to U.S. forces and a preliminary count by The Associated Press.

A U.S. soldier was killed Sunday in a small-arms attack during combat operations in eastern Baghdad, the military said Monday. The soldier, whose name was withheld pending notification of relatives, was assigned to the Multi-National Division-Baghdad. In July 2006, 43 American soldiers were killed, according to an AP count.

“It’s still too high,” military spokesman Rear Admiral Mark Fox said of the deaths during a news conference. “But the trend is in the right direction.”

The death raised to at least 3,804 members of the U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an AP count

U.S. and Iraqi forces killed more than 60 insurgent and militia fighters in intense battles over the weekend, with most of the casualties believed to have been al-Qaida fighters, officials said.

U.S. aircraft killed more than 20 al-Qaida in Iraq fighters who opened fire on an American air patrol northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. command said Sunday.

The firefight between U.S. aircraft and the insurgent fighters occurred Saturday about 17 miles northwest of the capital, the military said.

The aircraft observed about 25 al-Qaida insurgents carrying AK-47 assault rifles — one brandishing a rocket-propelled grenade — walking into a palm grove, the military said.

“Shortly after spotting the men, the aircraft were fired upon by the insurgent fighters,” it said.

In a separate operation, U.S. forces killed two insurgents and detained 21 others during weekend operations against al-Qaida.

Intelligence led to a raid early Sunday that netted what the U.S. military called 15 rogue members of the Mahdi Army militia at an undisclosed Baghdad location.

The U.S. Embassy, meanwhile, joined a broad swath of Iraqi politicians — both Shiite and Sunni — in criticizing a nonbinding U.S. Senate resolution seen here as a recipe for splitting the country along sectarian and ethnic lines.

The Senate resolution, adopted last week, proposed reshaping Iraq according to three sectarian or ethnic territories. It calls for a limited central government with the bulk of power going to the country’s Shiite, Sunni or Kurdish regions, envisioning a power-sharing agreement similar to the one that ended the 1990s war in Bosnia. Senator Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, was a prime sponsor.

At a news conference earlier, at least nine Iraqi political parties and party blocs — both Shiite and Sunni — said the Senate resolution would diminish Iraq’s sovereignty and said they would try to pass a law to ban any division of the country.

“This proposal was based on the incorrect reading and unrealistic estimations of Iraq’s past, present and future,” according to a statement read at a news conference by Izzat al-Shahbandar, a representative of the secular Iraqi National List.

On Monday, the leader of the country’s largest Sunni Arab political group, Adnan al-Dulaimi, joined his colleagues in denouncing the plan. Al-Dulaimi assured citizens his party “would fight for the sake of Iraq’s unity.”

On Friday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told the AP that “dividing Iraq is a problem, and a decision like that would be a catastrophe.”

Iraq’s constitution lays down a federal system, allowing Shiites in the south, Kurds in the north and Sunnis in the center and west of the country to set up regions with considerable autonomous powers.

Nevertheless, ethnic and sectarian turmoil have snarled hopes of negotiating such measures, especially given deep divisions on sharing the country’s vast oil resources. Oil reserves and existing fields would fall mainly into the hands of Kurds and Shiites if such a division were to occur.


AP correspondents Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Katarina Kratovac and Kim Curtis contributed to this report.