Violence in Iraq, as measured by casualties among troops and civilians, has edged higher despite the U.S.-led security push in Baghdad, the Pentagon told Congress on Wednesday.
In its required quarterly report on security, political and economic developments in Iraq, covering the February-May period, the Pentagon also raised questions about Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ability to fulfill a pledge made in January to prohibit political interference in security operations and to allow no safe havens for sectarian militias.
With a thunderous rumble and cloud of dust and smoke, a suicide car bomb brought down a section of highway bridge south of Baghdad on Sunday, killing three U.S. soldiers and wounding six from a checkpoint guarding the crossing and blocking traffic on Iraq's main north-south artery.
The U.S. military said engineers were dispatched with bulldozers and other heavy equipment to clear the highway, which was partially blocked by debris from the overpass. An Iraqi interpreter also was wounded in the attack, according to the statement that gave the casualty toll.
The four-year U.S. military death toll in Iraq passed 3,500 after a soldier was reported killed in a roadside bombing in Baghdad. A British soldier was also shot to death Thursday in southern Iraq, as Western forces find themselves increasingly vulnerable under a new strategy to take the fight to the enemy.
The British ambassador to Iraq, meanwhile, signaled his government was ready to talk to those behind the abduction of five Britons in Baghdad last month. Iraqi officials have said they believe the Britons were taken by the Mahdi Army militia, which is largely loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
One question lingers on the minds of U.S. soldiers serving extended tours in country torn apart by an American-induced civil war.
"When are we going to get out of here?"
McClatchy newspapers reporter Leila Fadel, interviewing soldiers before a photo-p lunch by pro-war Senator Josepth Lieberman at a U.S. field base in Baghdad, said Spec. David Williams, 22, of Boston, brought that singular question from more than 30 of his comrades.
A vast majority of Americans might want U.S. troops out of Iraq but President George W. Bush wants to keep this country's men and women in uniform in harm's way in that war-torn country for at least 50 years.
Just like Korea.
Although the "official line" from the Bush administration has been that America would not have a "permanent" presence in Iraq, Presidential spokesman Tony Snow admitted Wednesday that current plans accept the fact that "you get to a point in the future where you want it to be a purely support model."
Cindy Sheehan, the soldier's mother who galvanized an anti-war movement with her monthlong protest outside President Bush's ranch, says she's done being the public face of the movement.
"I've been wondering why I'm killing myself and wondering why the Democrats caved in to George Bush," Sheehan told The Associated Press by phone Tuesday while driving from her property in Crawford to the airport, where she planned to return to her native California.
"I'm going home for awhile to try and be normal," she said.
In what she described as a "resignation letter," Sheehan wrote in her online diary on the "Daily Kos" blog: "Good-bye America … you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it.
The United States and Iran broke a 27-year diplomatic freeze Monday with a four-hour meeting about Iraqi security. The American envoy said there was broad policy agreement, but that Iran must stop arming and financing militants who are attacking U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi told The Associated Press that the two sides would meet again in less than a month. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said Washington would decide only after the Iraqi government issued an invitation.
"We don't have a formal invitation to respond to just yet, so it doesn't make sense to respond to what we don't have," Crocker told reporters after the meeting.
The talks in the Green Zone offices of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were the first formal and scheduled meeting between Iranian and American government officials since the United States broke diplomatic relations with Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the seizure of the U.S. Embassy.
A suicide car bomber struck a busy Baghdad commercial district Monday, killing at least 21 people, setting vehicles on fire and damaging a nearby Sunni shrine, police and hospital officials said.
The blast went off at 2 p.m. in the Sinak market area on the east side of the Tigris River, just as U.S. and Iranian diplomats were wrapping up a historic meeting aimed at ending the violence wracking the country.
Insurgents carried out several mortar and car bombing attacks throughout the capital Monday and even waged a lengthy gunbattle with police in broad daylight. The wave of violence, which killed 36 people across Baghdad, came despite a nearly 15-week-old U.S.-led security crackdown in the city.