Monday, March 24, 2008

Overall US death toll in Iraq hits 4,000

3/23/2008 BAGHDAD - The overall U.S. death toll in Iraq rose to 4,000 after four soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in Baghdad, a grim milestone that is likely to fuel calls for the withdrawal of American forces as the war enters its sixth year.

The American deaths occurred Sunday, the same day rockets and mortars pounded the U.S.-protected Green Zone in Baghdad and a wave of attacks left at least 61 Iraqis dead nationwide.

An Iraqi military spokesman said Monday that troops had found rocket launching pads in different areas in predominantly Shiite eastern Baghdad that had been used by extremists to fire on the Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government headquarters.

"We hope to deal with this issue professionally to avoid civilian casualties," said spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi.

The four soldiers with Multi-National Division — Baghdad were on a patrol when their vehicle was struck at about 10 p.m. Sunday in southern Baghdad, the U.S. military said. Another soldier was wounded in the attack — less than a week after the fifth anniversary of the conflict.

Navy Lt. Patrick Evans, a military spokesman, expressed condolences to all the families of soldiers killed in Iraq, saying each death is "equally tragic."

"There have been some significant gains. However, this enemy is resilient and will not give up, nor will we," he said. "There's still a lot of work to be done."

Last year, U.S. military deaths spiked as U.S. troops sought to regain control of Baghdad and surrounding areas. The death toll has seesawed since, with 2007 ending as the deadliest year for American troops at 901 deaths. That was 51 more deaths than 2004, the second deadliest year for U.S. soldiers.

The Associated Press count of 4,000 deaths is based on U.S. military reports and includes eight civilians who worked for the Department of Defense.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians also have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion on March 20, 2003, although estimates of a specific figure vary widely due to the difficulty in collecting accurate information.