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10 U.S. troops slain in Baghdad


The U.S. military reported today that 10 American troops had been killed the day before, raising the death toll so far this month to 69 and putting October on track to be the deadliest month for coalition forces since January 2005.

The nine U.S. soldiers and one Marine were killed by roadside bombs and enemy fire in and around the capital on Tuesday, the military reported.

The sharp rise in deaths comes as the U.S. has increased the number of troops in the Baghdad area to try to stop the spiraling sectarian and insurgent violence engulfing the city of some 6 million people. White House spokesman Tony Snow said the 10 deaths would not make President Bush reconsider his plans for Iraq.

"No, his strategy is to win. The president understands not only the difficulty of it, but he grieves for the people who have served with valor," Snow said in Washington. "But as everybody says correctly, we've got to win. And that comes at a cost. And God bless the men and women who have risked their lives going into hostile areas because they do believe in the mission."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, consulted with Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the holy city of Najaf in a bid to enlist support for efforts to build political consensus and tackle the Sunni-Shiite killings.

Four U.S. soldiers died when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle at about 6:50 a.m. Tuesday west of Baghdad, the military said in a brief statement.

Three soldiers attached to Task Force Lightning, assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, were killed and one wounded during combat Tuesday in Diyala province east of Baghdad.

Another soldier died around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday when suspected insurgents attacked his patrol in northern Baghdad, and one more soldier died in another roadside bombing north of the capital in the afternoon.

A Marine assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7 also died from injuries sustained during fighting Tuesday in the western province of Anbar, a hotbed of the insurgency, according to the military.

According to an Associated Press count, October also is on the way to being the deadliest month for Iraqis since the AP began tracking deaths in April 2005. In October, 767 Iraqis have been killed in war-related violence, an average of 45 every day.

That compares to an average daily death toll of about 27 since April 2005. The AP count includes civilians, government officials and police and security forces, and is considered a minimum based on AP reporting. The actual number is likely higher, as many killings go unreported.

The violence continued Wednesday when a bomb planted on the main highway between the southern cities of Amarah and Basra killed Ali Qassim al-Tamimi, head of intelligence for the Maysan provincial police force, along with four bodyguards, police Capt. Hussein Karim said.

Elsewhere, local Sunni and Shiite leaders were meeting in an attempt to resolve the fate of more than 40 people missing since their 13-car convoy was waylaid at a checkpoint on Sunday outside Balad, where almost 100 people were killed in five days of sectarian fighting.

Police said the hijacked cars had been diverted to the nearby Shiite militant stronghold of al-Nebaiyi on Balad's outskirts.

Al-Maliki's call on al-Sistani underscored the influence wielded by the spiritual leader on the Shiite-dominated government and comes as the prime minister faces growing U.S. pressure to show more resolve in dealing with the daily carnage of sectarian bombings and attacks.

"I came (to see al-Sistani) so that the security and political situation can be stabilized, allowing the government to turn its attention to reconstruction," al-Maliki told reporters after the meeting.

He also met with al-Sadr, whose support was crucial to the prime minister's election to his job earlier this year.

The anti-U.S. cleric, whose militia is blamed for much of the sectarian violence in Iraq, appeared to soften his opposition to plans by the Shiite bloc in parliament to introduce a federal system in Iraq that would let provinces join together in autonomous regions similar to the one established by the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1991.

Al-Sadr, like Sunni Arab politicians, had maintained that federalism could lead to the eventual breakup of Iraq.

But on Wednesday he said the decision should be left to the Iraqi people to make.

"Federalism, like anything else, is left up to the Iraqi people. If they approve it, then there should be no problem," he told reporters after meeting al-Maliki in Najaf.

Al-Maliki's talks with al-Sistani and al-Sadr in Najaf coincided with the announcement in Baghdad that a much-anticipated national reconciliation conference would be start in the Iraqi capital Nov. 4.

For the U.S. military, October's death toll is on a pace that, if continued, would make the month the deadliest for U.S. forces since January 2005, when 107 U.S. troops died. The war's deadliest month for U.S. forces was November 2004, when 137 troops died. At least 2,785 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an AP count.

The U.S. military has said the upsurge in casualties was expected as American forces, joined by their Iraqi counterparts, flooded into the capital and its environs in August to conduct a crackdown on insurgent and militia killings.

The military credits the crackdown with wiping out many insurgent cell and confiscation of vast amounts of explosives, weapons and ammunition. But patrolling Baghdad's violent streets has also left U.S. forces highly vulnerable, yet again, to insurgent attacks and roadside bombings.

The fighting in Balad also forced U.S. forces to return to patrolling the streets of the predominantly Shiite city after Iraq's best-trained soldiers proved unable to stem a series of revenge killings sparked by the murder on Friday of 17 Shiite construction workers. The U.S. military had turned over control of the surrounding province north of Baghdad to the Iraqi army a month ago, and American forces apparently did not redeploy there until Monday, when the worst of the bloodletting had ended.

Minority Sunnis, who absorbed most of the brutality in the city of 80,000 people, have been fleeing across the Tigris River in small boats.

On the outskirts of the city, two fuel trucks were attacked and burned and Shiite militiamen clashed with residents of Duluiyah, a predominantly Sunni city on the east bank of the Tigris. Militants were blocking food and fuel trucks from entering Duluiyah.