Baghdad, Oct. 29 (Reuters): The US post-war combat death toll in Iraq climbed past the number of soldiers killed during the invasion when the US military said today it had lost two more dead in a roadside bomb north of Baghdad.
Their deaths brought to 116 the number of US troops killed in hostilities since President George W. Bush declared major combat over on May 1, surpassing the 115 killed in the war launched on March 20 to topple Saddam Hussein. The sombre statistic — no reliable figures are available for the many more Iraqis killed in the conflict — underlines the scale of the resistance that US forces have stirred since they burst into Iraq more than seven months ago.
A spokesman for the US army’s 4th Infantry Division said the two soldiers died and one was wounded when their vehicle hit an explosive device about 120 km north of Baghdad late today.
Three landmine blasts wounded seven Ukrainian soldiers, part of a Polish-led multinational division operating south of Baghdad, yesterday. A Ukraine defence ministry spokesman said the mines had hit two armoured vehicles during a night patrol.
Those fighting the US-led occupation seem determined to spread chaos, foil reconstruction efforts and punish foreigners and Iraqis seen as linked to the Americans. On Monday, suicide bombers blasted the headquarters of the Red Cross and three stations of the US-backed police, killing 35 people and wounding more than 200, a day after attackers rocketed a fortress hotel where US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying, killing a US soldier.
A car bomber targeted a police station in Falluja, west of the capital, on Tuesday, killing at least four people.
The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was to hold a news conference at 1500 GMT in response to the attack on its offices, which has forced other humanitarian agencies to agonise over how they can operate in Iraq.
The ICRC's spokeswoman in Baghdad, Nada Doumani, has said it will not quit Iraq after 23 years of uninterrupted work, but has not ruled out a further cut in international staff.
Bush has blamed“foreign terrorists” and forces loyal to Saddam for the unrelenting violence.
”The foreign terrorists are trying to create conditions of fear and retreat because they fear a free and peaceful state in the midst of a part of the world where terror has found recruits,” Bush said on Tuesday.
Many Iraqis say it is the U.S. occupation that has fuelled nationalist resistance and attracted foreign militants keen to wage a jihad, or holy war, against American troops.
”How many Iraqis were involved in terror attacks against U.S. targets, or in terror attacks around the world, before 2003'” asked political science professor Saad Jawad, from Baghdad University.“Was Iraq a terror base before the invasion' Look at it now.”
No supporter of Saddam, Jawad said the deposed dictator had stamped hard on any suspected Islamist militants.“The U.S.-UK invasion opened our doors wide for anyone to enter Iraq.”
Bush, seeking re-election next year amid criticism from some over his Iraq policies, said he expected Syria and Iran to enforce border controls to stop infiltrators.
Syria on Wednesday condemned the Red Cross bombing as a terrorist act that damaged the interests of the Iraqi people.
Many Iraqis also believe foreigners are behind the wave of suicide bombings on mainly civilian targets in Baghdad.
Gesturing angrily at the pockmarked ICRC buildings, where a dozen Iraqis died in Monday's bombing, Yassen Saeed shook his head.
”They are criminals. Syrians, Palestinians and Jordanians from the Arab world. Iraqis wouldn't do this,” said Saeed, a retired oil worker whose son was wounded in the attack.
A spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, a former exile opposition group close to the Pentagon, said only Iraqis could solve the security nightmare in and around Baghdad.
”Put security completely in the hands of Iraqi paramilitary forces, Iraqi security forces,” Entifadh Qanbar told Reuters. ”Iraqis will be able to find those bastards.”
He said Iraqi police felt the Americans were interfering and holding them back in the hunt for“the bad guys”.
(Additional reporting by Fedja Grulovic in Baquba and Dean Yates in Baghdad)