Surge in violence in Iraq claims 5 US soldiers
Danger rises as troop departure deadline nears
BAGHDAD — Five soldiers were killed yesterday in one of the deadliest days in two years for the US military in Iraq, a day that underscored the continuing threats troops face as they prepare to withdraw from the country.
US officials provided few details, saying only that five service members had been killed in an attack in central Iraq. An Iraqi security official said they died after three rockets launched from a Kia pickup truck struck a US base in eastern Baghdad.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
The toll was unusual at a time when US forces have largely pulled back behind the high concrete curtains of their bases. But US military officials have been bracing for an increase in attacks as militants use violence to inject themselves into the fiercely politicized debate over whether Iraq should ask US forces to stay after the end of the year.
US military officials say that militants are stepping up attacks against bases and convoys, especially in Iraq’s south, hitting them with mortars, rockets, and improvised roadside bombs.
In Baghdad, the number of mortar and rocket attacks against US and Iraqi targets jumped to 37 in May from 17 in April.
US casualties have dropped sharply in the last few years, and only two soldiers were killed last month. But 11 died in April, the most since November 2009, according to a tally kept by icasualties.org.
All of the 46,000 US forces still in Iraq are scheduled to withdraw by the end of the year under a security agreement signed by both countries. But their departure is far from certain.
Iraqi leaders are debating whether to ask some troops to stay behind to train Iraqi soldiers and help Iraq secure its borders and airspace. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said last month that he could support an extended US troop presence if a solid majority of Iraq’s leaders also stood behind it.
The attacks against the Americans were part of a bloody day across Iraq. Gunmen and suicide bombers struck at Iraqi security forces and militias in three heavily Sunni Muslim areas, killing at least 21 people in attacks that challenged the government’s attempts to demonstrate gains in security.
In the worst of the attacks, a suicide bomber detonated a car filled with explosives at the main gates of the governmental headquarters in Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein. Security officials said 12 people were killed, nine of them Iraqi soldiers.
It was the second major attack in Tikrit in just three days. On Friday, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in the center of a mosque filled with worshippers, and hours later, a second suicide bomber attacked the hospital treating the wounded. Nineteen people were killed, including several local officials.
In Baghdad’s heavily Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, gunmen yesterday assassinated three members of the Awakening, the US-backed militia whose assaults against insurgents are credited with helping to tame Iraq’s once-rampant violence.