BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A spate of insurgent attacks yesterday killed dozens of holiday shoppers in the southern city of Basra and six American soldiers, making October the deadliest month for the U.S. military in Iraq since January.
The U.S. toll for October, which included a Marine killed Sunday near Amiriyah, climbed to 92, the highest monthly total since 106 Americans died as the Jan. 30 elections approached.
Last month's toll was up sharply from the 49 Americans who died in September. At least 2,025 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
The rising death toll has presented political complications for President Bush and his administration, domestically and abroad, but White House officials have maintained that the fallen soldiers have died for a just cause.
The administration "mourns the loss of each and every one of our men and women in uniform who have made the ultimate sacrifice to make the world freer and more peaceful," White House spokesman Frederick Jones said yesterday. "And the best way to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice is to prevail in the war on terrorism."
But even longtime international supporters of the U.S.-led invasion, such as Italy, with about 3,000 troops in Iraq, appear to be backing away from the administration. In an interview televised yesterday in Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is visiting Bush in Washington, was quoted as saying that he "tried on several occasions to convince the American president not to wage war."
U.S. military officials cautioned that the most recent increase in fatalities does not necessarily mean that the insurgency is gaining strength.
"You cannot determine at this point if it is an upsurge or anomaly from one data point," said Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Baghdad. "Sometimes [insurgents] are able to achieve their desired results no matter what we do. However, those are limited and far between."
Insurgents have unleashed a flurry of deadly attacks against Iraqi Shiites and U.S. troops during the past week, killing nearly two dozen soldiers and Marines. Almost all of the Americans killed by insurgents in October were in the capital or the Sunni Arab western and central parts of Iraq.
Sunnis, who make up about a fifth of Iraq's 27 million people, filled the upper ranks of Iraq's officer corps and civil service in the decades preceding the invasion. They bristle at their loss of power and prestige under a government dominated by majority Shiite Muslims and non-Arab Kurds.
U.S. and Iraqi officials hope that drawing Sunnis into the political process can allay their anger. In contrast to the Jan. 30 vote that Sunnis largely boycotted, dozens of Sunni Arab coalitions, parties and politicians have signed up to take part in the Dec. 15 elections, when Iraqis will choose their first full-term parliament since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's government in 2003.
Still, the attacks continue.
A car bomb in Basra, Iraq's mostly Shiite second city, exploded about 9 p.m. as residents shopped for clothes and sweets in preparation for the feast commemorating the end of the holy month of Ramadan this week.
The blast destroyed or damaged at least eight shops, cut off electricity and brought sudden darkness, chaos and panic to one of the most crowded parts of the city.
"We saw fire and lots of smoke," said Khudair Mayahi, owner of a dairy products store near the explosion. "Bodies were just lying on the street."
The Basra bombing, which killed at least 24 and injured as many as 100, according to police and hospital officials, followed a truck bomb explosion Saturday evening that killed at least 25 Shiite villagers near Baqubah, 40 miles north of Baghdad.
Residents bemoaned the continued deterioration of security in Basra, a port city that was long oppressed by Hussein.
"Basra is very safe in general," said Hossein Zayiban, a police officer who was near the blast. "But now the people are very frightened, and this will affect people very much."
Although insurgents target civilians with car bombs, roadside bombs are the weapon of choice in the guerrilla campaign against the U.S. military. Yesterday, four soldiers attached to the 3rd Infantry Division in Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of Baghdad, and two soldiers with the 29th Brigade Combat Team near Balad, 50 miles north of the capital, were killed by the homemade bombs.
Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.