Iraq: US troop deaths hit seven month high

The killings of four US soldiers in Iraq on April 30 pushed the US troop death toll for April up to 52, making it the deadliest month for the US occupation forces since last September, when 65 US soldiers were killed. US troop fatalities have now reached 4063 since the occupation began.

The average daily death toll for US occupation troops fell dramatically from 2.84 last August to an all-time low of 0.77 in December, largely as a result of a unilateral ceasefire announced in late August by anti-occupation Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

However, fighting between his 60,000-strong Mahdi Army militia and the US occupation forces erupted on March 25 when US troops led 30,000 puppet Iraqi Army soldiers and National Police commandos in an assault on Mahdi Army strongholds in Basra.

This offensive was widely seen in Iraq as a US-instigated attempt to crush the Sadrist movement in advance of provincial elections in October. The Sadrists, who boycotted the last provincial elections held in 2005, are expected to rout their governing Shiite political rivals — Iraqi PM Nuri al Maliki's tiny Dawa party and Abdul Azziz al Hakim's much stronger Islamic Supreme council of Iraq (ISIC).

Such an outcome would be a major political blow to Washington's goal of handing control over Iraq's huge oil resources, mostly located in the country's southern provinces, to the big US oil corporations. Unlike the opposition Sadrists, the ISIC supports the privatisation of Iraq's nationalised oil industry.

The Basra offensive, initially hailed by US President George Bush as a "defining moment" in the six-year war, quickly stalled in the face of fierce Sadrist resistance and mass desertions and defections from Iraqi Army units. This led on March 31 to an Iranian brokered truce agreement between the Sadrists and representatives of ISIC.

The launching of the Basra offensive also led to an eruption of fighting in Baghdad between US troops and Sadr's militia, with large numbers of mortars and rockets being fired into the Green Zone — the huge fortified compound in the centre of Baghdad where the US occupation command, the US embassy, and the offices of Maliki's government are located.

US troops have attempted to occupy Sadr City, Baghdad's sprawling Shiite slum district with about 2.5 million people that is a stronghold of the Mahdi Army. This has led to an increase in US troop fatalities — from one a day in February to 1.73 a day in April.

On April 20, Sadr threatened to call off the ceasefire he had announced in August and to launch an "open war until liberation". In a statement read out at Shiite mosques across Iraq five days later, he said: "When we threatened to declare an open war until the liberation, we meant war against the occupier … There is no war between us and our Iraqi brothers — no matter what their nationality, race or sect."

He encouraged not only his Mahdi Army militia but all Iraqis to fight the US and allied occupation forces — including the soldiers in Washington's puppet Iraqi security forces.

Associated Press reported on April 29 that "dozens" of Mahdi Army fighters "ambushed a US patrol in Baghdad's Shiite militia stronghold Tuesday … as the American push into Sadr City increasingly faces pockets of close urban combat. US forces struck back with 200-pound guided rockets that devastated at least three buildings in the densely packed district … Local hospital officials said dozens of civilians were killed or wounded."

The next day, AP reported that Tahseen al Sheikhly, the spokesperson "for the civilian side of Baghdad security operations", reported that 925 people had been killed in Sadr City in April — mostly civilians.