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Bloody Month in Iraq, Despite U.S. Troop 'Surge'


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

This is June 1st, which means one of the deadliest months for U.S. troops in Iraq is over. At least 122 Americans were killed in May, and there's little indication this trend is going to change soon. NPR's Jamie Tarabay is covering the story in Baghdad.

And Jamie, what kind of fighting is getting Americans killed?

JAMIE TARABAY: The closed quarters that the American troops are finding themselves in lately because of this new surge that began in the middle of February has American soldiers out in the streets off Baghdad fighting often directly face to face with a lot of these insurgents.

The number of IED attacks, the improvised explosive devices that have hit American troops over the last few months, that number has just gone up and up and up. It was 50 dead in March from IED attacks, in April it was 65, and in May it was 72.

INSKEEP: Those last numbers about improvised explosive devices - this is something that the U.S. military has focused enormous effort on battling, and you're saying that in recent months, anyway, in terms of the raw numbers of killed, the enemy, the insurgents are killing more.

TARABAY: Yes, and they're getting better at killing more soldiers in single incidents. We've been seeing a lot of IED attacks that are claiming four, six, eight soldiers in one separate attack. There was a time last year when these IEDs weren't having barely any impact at all. But now they're getting smarter, they're getting more sophisticated, they have better weaponry. Having said that, though, the military says that they are finding roughly half the number of the IED so there's still the other half that is killing the soldiers.

INSKEEP: And Jamie, as we talk about these 122 American deaths, minimum, in May, a lot of them, of course, are taking place in Baghdad, where you are, in the center of the country, but if we imagine a map of the rest of Iraq, where else are Americans in combat and being killed?

TARABAY: In the west, in Anbar province, in an area which we keep hearing this great success about; the Sunni tribal leaders have made a pact with American military to start battling al-Qaida-linked insurgents and start joining with the coalition and with the Iraqi government. And northeast of Baghdad, in Diyala province, where the surge is pushing insurgents out of Baghdad into this area; that also is a place where a lot of troops are being killed.

INSKEEP: So American troops are running more risks. They're doing it for a purpose; the stated purpose is to provide a little bit of security and give Iraq's political leaders a little bit of room to reconcile. Is that working?

TARABAY: The Iraqi parliament met for three days this week. They are still debating whether they're going to take two months off at the beginning of July as opposed to a month off. They claim that they're under pressure from American officials to delay or shorten their vacation time to put through crucial legislation that they haven't begun to even talk about yet. So no.

INSKEEP: And what's happening with the Iraqi death toll while all these takes place?

TARABAY: For a while to, I guess, indicate that the surge was working, the American military pointed to the lower rate of sectarian killings that has now gone back up again.

The Baghdad morgue has reported receiving nearly 600 bodies in April and in the month of May it was also around 560; these are unidentified bodies dumped in different parts of the capital, showing signs of torture, killed execution style - trademark sectarian violence. And that is increasing again. So whatever lull there may have been at the beginning of this surge, it looks like that trend is reversing again.

INSKEEP: Some hard numbers from NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad. Jamie, thanks very much.

TARABAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Jamie Tarabay
After reporting from Iraq for two years as NPR's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Jamie Tarabay is now embarking on a two year project reporting on America's Muslims. The coverage will take in the country's approx 6 million Muslims, of different ethnic, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and the issues facing their daily lives as Americans.