Five U.S. soldiers killed south of Baghdad

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Five U.S. soldiers were killed, including four in a single explosion, during combat operations south of Baghdad on Saturday, the U.S. military said on Sunday.

A U.S. soldier stands guard at the scene of a recent car bombing in Baghdad's central Karrada district August 11, 2007. Four U.S. soldiers were killed by an explosion during combat operations south of Baghdad on Saturday, the U.S. military said on Sunday. REUTERS/Ross Colvin

Four other soldiers were wounded in the explosion but no other details of the incident were immediately available.

In a separate statement, the U.S. military said a fifth soldier had been killed by small arms fire while on foot patrol southeast of Baghdad on Saturday.

The U.S. military said the soldiers were part of Task Force Marne, which has deployed in areas south of Baghdad to stop the flow of weapons, explosives and Shi’ite and Sunni Arab militants into the capital.

About 30,000 extra troops have been sent to Iraq since February as part of a security crackdown designed to buy time for Baghdad’s fractured coalition government to meet a series of political targets set by Washington.

The targets are meant to promote reconciliation between Iraq’s warring Shi’ite majority and the minority Sunni Arabs who were dominant under Saddam Hussein.

The five deaths bring to at least 3,689 the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam.

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At least 31 U.S. soldiers have been killed so far in August.

Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno, the U.S. military’s second-in-command in Iraq, said on Saturday there had been a decline in troop deaths after a sharp spike in May and June.

He said troop deaths were roughly on par with July, when 80 soldiers were killed.

U.S. commanders have warned of a likely rise in U.S. casualties as troops push into dangerous areas previously off limits to U.S. forces.

They also fear more attacks on U.S. soldiers by Shi’ite militias and al Qaeda Sunni Arab militants ahead of the presentation of a key report on Iraq to Congress in mid-September.

Odierno also said that Iran was supplying more weapons, including roadside bombs, to Shi’ite fighters in a bid to influence debate in Washington ahead of the progress report.