US combat deaths in Iraq have risen sharply during January despite a drop in the number of attacks and the capture of former dictator Saddam Hussein over a month ago.
As of Thursday, 33 American soldiers and one civilian had been killed by hostile fire during the month. That compares with 24 US combat deaths in December, and a total of 32 coalition combat deaths.
The figures appear to show that the security situation in Iraq is not improving, contrary to earlier claims from the US military and politicians.
The US casualties are also mounting Afghanistan, where seven US soldiers were killed on Thursday in an explosion near an ammunition dump in the south of the country.
The US military on Thursday declined to confirm or deny the figures for combat deaths in Iraq this month, which were calculated from press releases from US Central Command in Florida. A US military spokesman in Baghdad said figures were only kept for two-month periods, and a computer malfunction made it impossible to calculate an official casualty count for separate months.
Overall, January has been one of the bloodiest post-war months for the coalition. Combat deaths in the first 28 days of January alone exceeded those in every post-war month except October (35) and November (94), according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count - a website devoted to tracking coalition deaths.
Eighteen combat deaths - more than half the January total - occurred in one province, Anbar, in central Iraq, where the restive cities of Falluja, Ramadi, and Khaldiya are located. Nine soldiers were killed when a Blackhawk helicopter was shot down near Falluja on January 8.
Four further fatalities from the two most recent helicopter crashes , on January 23 and 25, are still under investigation to determine if hostile fire was involved.
Only three weeks ago, on January 6, Major General Charles Swannack of the 82nd Airborne Division, who commands Anbar province, declared that the region was largely under control. "I'm here to tell you that we have turned that corner," he told a news conference.
"I also can tell you that we're on a glide-path toward success," he said, adding that attacks against US forces in Anbar province had decreased "almost 60 per cent over the past month".
More recent comments from US officials have been more tentative. Coalition spokesman Dan Senor said on Tuesday that violence was not expected to wane in the immediate future. "Between now and June 30 [the deadline for Iraq's return to self-rule], we should not be surprised if there is continued violence," he said.
US military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmit said in the same news conference that attacks had indeed decreased, but that combat fatalities had not.
Iraqi casualties also remain high. More than 300 Iraqi policemen have been killed in shootings, bombings and suicide attacks since May 1, when President George W. Bush declared major combat to be over in Iraq, according to Nouri Badran, interior minister. In the same period, 295 coalition troops have been killed by hostile fire, according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.
On Thursday, 13 Iraqis were wounded and one killed in a fresh wave of bomb attacks against police and security forces.
© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2004