WASHINGTON—At least 104 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in April, capping the deadliest six-month period for U.S. forces since the war began more than four years ago.
The military announced on Monday the deaths of five soldiers over the weekend. That made April the deadliest month so far this year and the sixth deadliest of the war. It also brought to five the number of consecutive months when the American death toll has surpassed 80, the longest such stretch of the war.
So far this year, 348 troops have been killed in Iraq, compared with 124 during the first four months of 2006. Fighting in March and April 2003, when U.S. troops invaded Iraq and marched to Baghdad, killed 139 troops.
Top military leaders, who'd predicted that U.S. casualties would rise as U.S. forces moved from huge bases outside Baghdad to outposts in the city as part of a new plan to secure the capital, offered no comment on April's death toll.
Statistics gathered by Iraq Casualty Count, which tracks U.S. casualties based on official announcements and media reports, show that since the U.S. began moving more troops into Baghdad on Feb. 15, the capital has surpassed Anbar province as the deadliest location for American forces.
Roadside bombs remained the No. 1 cause of death, killing 65 Americans during the month.
On Tuesday, the fourth anniversary of President Bush's declaration that "major combat operations" in Iraq had ended, Congress is expected to send to the White House a war-funding bill that for the first time would set a deadline for the administration to begin withdrawing troops.
Bush has promised to veto the bill, and a Pentagon spokesman defended the current strategy of pumping 28,000 additional troops into Iraq.
"Most people would tell you that the surge is working," said Maj. Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman.
Last week, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said during a visit to Washington that sectarian murders had dropped by two-thirds since the surge began. But he also acknowledged that overall violence hadn't declined, and statistics gathered by McClatchy Newspapers show that the number of bombings in Baghdad increased in the past month, to at least 389 in April from 323 in March.
Of the Americans killed in April, the greatest number, 55, died in Baghdad. Twenty-two died in Anbar and 17 in Diyala province, according to Iraq Casualty Count, whose Web site can be found at icasualties.org. In March, when the death toll was 81, 37 died in Baghdad.
Upton said that the U.S. death toll traditionally is high in April. The U.S. has conducted major operations in four of the five Aprils that U.S. troops have been in Iraq since 2003. Those operations include the invasion, an offensive in Fallujah in 2004, another into the restive Baghdad enclave of Sadr City in 2005 and this month's surge.
The most recent deaths include three American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter who were killed by a roadside bomb Sunday in eastern Baghdad. In Anbar, a Marine was killed on Sunday. On Saturday, a U.S. soldier was killed in Baghdad by small-arms fire, the military said.
In all, 3,351 troops have been killed in Iraq.
A roundup of Iraq violence is posted daily on the McClatchy Washington Bureau Web site, http://www.mcclatchydc.com. Click on Iraq War Coverage.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.