BAGHDAD,(Reuters) – The U.S. military announced on Friday the deaths of six more soldiers in Iraq, hours after U.S. President George W. Bush predicted a bloody summer lay ahead.
Five of the soldiers died on Thursday while another was killed on Tuesday by a roadside bomb in Tikrit, 175 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad, the military said.
April was the worst month this year for the U.S. military since the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003, with 104 soldiers killed. About 90 have been killed in May so far.
The total death toll for U.S. troops since the invasion now stands at 3,440.
The U.S. military has deployed thousands of extra troops around Baghdad and other areas in a last-ditch attempt to drag Iraq back from the brink of all-out sectarian civil war between majority Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs dominant under Saddam.
The crackdown is an attempt to buy time for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government to meet political benchmarks set by Washington, including a revenue-sharing oil law, aimed at promoting national reconciliation.
Bush told a news conference in Washington on Thursday he expected heavy fighting in Iraq in the weeks and months ahead. He predicted insurgents and Sunni Islamist al Qaeda would try to influence the U.S. debate on the war by launching major attacks before General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, hands him a progress report in September. “It could be a bloody — it could be a very difficult August,” Bush told reporters.
A CBS News/New York Times poll said 76 percent of Americans thought the war was going badly for the United States.
Insurgents defied the weekly Friday curfew in Baghdad to detonate bombs under a bridge linking two Sunni districts in the west of the capital, police said.
The bridge over a roadway was still standing but had been badly damaged. No casualties were reported.
In the worst attack on U.S. soldiers on Thursday, two died when their patrol was hit by a roadside bomb in western Baghdad. An Iraqi interpreter was also killed.
Another soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Nineveh province near Tikrit.
The U.S military also reported the deaths of one soldier from small arms fire in volatile Diyala province and another from a roadside bomb in nearby Salahaddin province. The military has said it anticipated it would suffer more casualties when it launched the security crackdown in February.
Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, said sectarian murders had risen in May but were still well below levels before the security crackdown began. He told a Pentagon news conference just over 1,400 civilian deaths were recorded in January, with 800 in February and just over 500 in March and about the same in April. But he said the number of sectarian killings had risen by between 20 and 30 percent in May.