BAGHDAD, Iraq - Unknown gunmen shot and killed a U.S. soldier at a checkpoint in western Iraq on Sunday night, continuing a series of attacks that have killed nine U.S. soldiers in 14 days.
The casualty rate from attacks in Iraq has risen sharply in the past two weeks, but military officials said the recent deployment of 4,000 U.S. soldiers to central Iraq would curb the threat.
"We are not going to allow it," said Capt. John Morgan, a military spokesman in Baghdad. "We are going to decisively engage."
Military officials said they believed small groups of hardened Saddam Hussein loyalists were responsible for most of the incidents. The strikes, which have occurred mainly across central Iraq, often involve tactics Iraqi irregulars successfully used at the outset of the war on "soft targets" such as resupply convoys and isolated checkpoints.
U.S. and Iraqi officials said they believed the strikes did not represent the emergence of an organized nationwide resistance. U.S. officials are eager to describe Iraq as stabilizing, but with few of the attackers captured, it is difficult to gauge whether the strikes are centrally planned. Officials have also said that radical Islamic groups and foreign fighters may also be involved.
In the three weeks after President Bush declared the end of hostilities in Iraq on May 1, one American soldier was killed and at least 11 were wounded in hostile incidents, according to records from Central Command. In the past two weeks, nine soldiers have been killed and at least 22 wounded in attacks. When accidents are included, Defense Department data show the toll since May 1 is 42 dead; 138 were killed in attacks and accidents during the war.
There has also been a spate of nonfatal attacks on U.S. forces in Baghdad. Over the past eight days, unknown men attacked a U.S. patrol with hand grenades and small arms in the Adhamiya neighborhood; a U.S. military policemen was shot in the chest in Sadr City, the Baghdad neighborhood formerly called Saddam City; and there were at least two grenade attacks.
The continued violence is hampering efforts to bring Iraq the kind of calm needed for investment, business leaders say, and if the attacks continue, they could complicate U.S. plans to project an air of stability in the country, attract finance and eventually scale down the number of U.S. troops.
The civilian administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, met yesterday with Iraqi businessmen and politicians, and representatives of the International Monetary Fund at a gathering of a U.S.-led business council.
Bremer said that paying the salaries of state employees was infusing $500 million into Iraq's economy, but the country would also need outside investment.
Though the attacks on U.S. forces promote an image of continued strife in Iraq, other aspects of life are gradually returning to normal, particularly in Baghdad.
Lines for gasoline are almost at their prewar lengths, thanks to the flood of fuel supplied by the allies. The food distribution system that provided sustenance to 60 percent of the population has resumed, and the lack of customs and tariff duties at borders has engendered a flood of small scale trade as shops reopen. Sidewalks are stacked high with appliances and electronics goods trucked in from Jordan and Kuwait.
U.S. soldiers in the city have appeared relaxed over the past several days. Yesterday afternoon, soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division joked as they dealt with snarled traffic in northwest Baghdad. Residents of the city said they had noticed no change in the number of U.S. patrols or in soldiers' behavior.
"There are no incidents in Baghdad," college student Muhammad Nazir, 29, said referring to clashes between Iraqis and Americans. "So it's not a problem."
Most of the fatal attacks have taken place outside Baghdad in Sunni Muslim-dominated central Iraq. That is where Hussein, a Sunni himself, enjoyed his strongest support and where senior members of the Baath party were from.
The current spate of attacks began May 26 with twin attacks on U.S. convoys. In Haditha, about 120 miles northwest of Baghdad, assailants fired small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at a U.S. resupply convoy, military officials said. One soldier was killed and another wounded.
In Baghdad on the same day, a soldier was killed and three others were injured when their vehicle drove over a mine or piece of unexploded ordinance on the main road leading to the airport. Military officials said they believed someone placed the device on the road.
The next day, a convoy of soldiers was attacked in Falluja, a restive city 35 miles west of Baghdad. In the firefight, two soldiers were killed and nine others were wounded. Two of the attackers were also killed.
On May 28, a soldier was killed when his convoy was ambushed in Taji, about 35 miles northwest of Baghdad. Six days later, a sergeant was killed when gunmen fired small arms and rocket-propelled grenades at his checkpoint outside Balad, north of Baghdad.
On Thursday, a private was killed when an assailant fired a rocket-propelled grenade as he completed a patrol in Falluja. Five soldiers were wounded.
On Saturday, one soldier was killed and five were wounded in an attack on U.S. forces outside Tikrit, in Hussein's home region.
The latest killing occurred late Sunday at a U.S. checkpoint in Al Qaim, near the Syrian border, military officials said.
Several individuals drove up to a checkpoint saying they needed help for a "sick" person in the car, officials said. Two people armed with pistols stepped out of the car and shot a soldier.
Other soldiers at the checkpoint returned fire, killing one of the gunmen and capturing a second. At least one other assailant fled in the car.