BAGHDAD – American military deaths for July rose to 73 on Tuesday with the report of a Marine killed in combat, but the toll was still the lowest in eight months as the U.S. said it was gaining control of former militant strongholds.
By contrast, July was the second-deadliest month for Iraqis so far this year, according to an Associated Press tally.
U.S. military officials, while saying they were heartened by the downturn in American deaths, cautioned it was too early to predict a sustained trend.
“We had said over the summer it’s going to get harder before it gets easier,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a military spokesman in Baghdad. “We’re hoping that we’re in the easier part, but we still obviously have a long way to go.”
Nevertheless, the daily average for U.S. troop deaths in July was at least 2.35 – higher than the daily average of 2.25 last year, and remarkably consistent with average daily casualties in 2005, at 2.32, and 2004, at 2.33.
This was also the deadliest July for U.S. troops since the war began. For the previous three years, the month of July saw a relatively low death toll. In July 2006, 43 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq, and 54 died in each of the previous two Julys.
The Defense Department, meanwhile, announced Tuesday that nearly 20,000 U.S. troops based in the United States will begin leaving for Iraq in December for a regular rotation of combat forces.
The incoming units from the Army and Marine Corps are not part of the U.S. troop buildup announced by President Bush in January, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. All of the so-called “surge” forces arrived by mid-June.
Separately, an Apache helicopter went down Tuesday after taking ground fire in a predominantly Shiite area in eastern Baghdad, but both crew members were safely evacuated, the military said.
More than 100 American forces died each month in the April-to-June period as the incoming U.S. troops were deployed with the Iraqi army in Baghdad’s dangerous streets and security outposts.