U.S. casualties rise in Iraq after falling for 4 months (By Nancy A. Youssef | McClatchy Newspapers)

The U.S. death toll in Iraq increased in January, ending a four-month drop in casualties, and most of the deaths occurred outside Baghdad or the once-restive Anbar province, according to military statistics.

In all, 38 American service members had been reported killed in January by Thursday evening, compared with 23 in December. Of those, 33 died from hostile action, but only nine of them in Baghdad or Anbar.

A total of 3,942 American service members have been killed in Iraq as of Thursday, according to icasualties.org, an independent Web site that tracks the statistics.

U.S. officials in Iraq said the death toll had risen because the military was targeting armed groups that had been driven out of Baghdad and Anbar by the increase in American troops…

U.S. casualties rise in Iraq after falling for 4 months (By Nancy A. Youssef | McClatchy Newspapers)

Some weeks ago, we issued a small warning against prematurely celebrating victory in the U.S. surge in Iraq because the level of violence has dropped, a phenomenon that we argued had far more to do with the Iraqis than it did with the Americans.

In recent weeks, however, a wave of assassinations by al Qaida in Iraq and by Shiite Muslim militiamen is threatening the American-paid tribal leaders and fighters of the Sunni Awakening Councils, which are at the heart of the reduced violence in some of the most dangerous places in Iraq.

The Awakening Councils and their Sunni sheiks have stopped the insurgent attacks on American troops in Anbar province and turned on the Sunni jihadists they’d sheltered for years.

This seismic shift virtually ended the violence in bloody Anbar and helped dampen the killings in Diyala province north of Baghdad and in some of the worst neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital. This and a six-month cease-fire by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia are far more responsible for the improved security in Iraq than the temporary increase in American troops is.

Assassinations of council leaders and sheiks, however, have spiked since Osama bin Laden called the 80,000 tribal volunteers “traitors and infidels” in a recent videotaped lecture.

Suicide bombers and ambushes have killed more than 100 Awakening Council leaders and several tribal sheiks, and that has American commanders worried. U.S. officials say they believe that Sunni militants have mounted most of the attacks, but that some have been carried out by Sadr’s militia or by the Iranian-backed Badr Corps, which has close ties to Iraq’s Shiite-led government…

Drop in Iraq violence threatened by assassinations (By Joseph L. Galloway | McClatchy Newspapers)

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