A group linked to al-Qa’ida has claimed responsibility for two suicide truck bombs that killed nine US soldiers and wounded 20 in Diyala province in one of the deadliest attacks on American forces in the past year.
"Two knights from the Islamic State of Iraq … driving booby-trapped trucks, hit the heart of the Crusader American headquarters in the region of Diyala," said a statement from the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq, which was posted on the internet.
The US military said that only one truck had exploded yesterday at a patrol base of the 82nd Airborne Division in the much-fought over province of Diyala, north-east of Baghdad. The death of the paratroopers brings to 85 the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq so far this month. This is higher than the total in each of the previous three months.
Residents in the Ameen area south of the provincial capital, Baquba, said the base attacked was in an old primary school called Sheikh Abdul Qadir al-Qailani. In a sophisticated attack, gunmen opened fire on US snipers on the roof of the school. Then one suicide truck bomb blasted a gap in the concrete wall protecting the base through which a second truck was able to pass before blowing up and causing the school building to collapse.
Ever since President George Bush announced that US soldiers would play a more active role in the war in a speech on 10 January, US casualties have been creeping up. Although it is the figure of 3,332 US soldiers dead since 2003 that is heavily publicised, many of the 24,314 wounded have suffered severe injuries that would have killed them in previous wars but they survive because of advances in medicine. US losses have been surprisingly steady over the past three years, with 849 soldiers killed in 2004, 846 in 2005, 822 in 2006 and 329 so far this year.
But the US strategy since the start of the "surge" in Baghdad on 14 February has been to make greater use of US troops and give less priority to training Iraqi forces. This is likely to lead to an increase in US casualties that are often a function of the number of patrols being made.
So far, US soldiers have seldom been attacked by suicide bombers, whose targets are usually Shia civilians in markets or soft, military targets such as Iraqi police stations. A suicide bomber who hit a police station in Baquba yesterday killed 10 people and wounded 23. The dead included Brig-Gen Safa al-Tamimi,a city police commander. Another suicide bomber in a truck killed 25 people and wounded 44 in Ramadi in an apparent attack on a police patrol.
The most effective method of attack against US and British forces has been the roadside bomb, to which neither has found an effective answer. No less than 1,310 US military fatalities have been caused by bombs in or beside roads. While the suicide bombers have hitherto not concentrated on US forces, possibly because they are too well defended, the more aggressive use of US forces is likely to make them more of a target.
PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq‘, a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.