US marks first month with no troop deaths in Iraq

FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011 file photo. U.S. Army soldiers from D Co., 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, confer during a patrol outside Contingency Operating Site Taji, north of Baghdad, Iraq. August marks the first month since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that no American forces have died. Figures compiled by The Associated Press show that there were no American forces killed in Iraq in August either in combat or non-combat related situations. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

BAGHDAD (AP) — August marked the first month since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that no American forces have died, according to an Associated Press tally.

Figures compiled by the AP show that no American forces died in Iraq in August either in combat or non-combat related situations, a significant achievement in a conflict that has claimed the lives of 4,474 American service members since it began.

All American forces are supposed to leave Iraq by December of this year, but U.S. and Iraqi officials have been discussing whether to have a long-term American military presence in the country.

There have been previous months during which there were no combat related deaths, but during which some people died in non-combat related situations.

The numbers come on top of what had been a jump in U.S. troop deaths for the first part of this year. In June, 15 U.S. troops died in one of the biggest losses of life for American forces in Iraq in years.

All but one of those deaths were combat related, and most came in southern Iraq, indicating the increased activity of Shiite militias in launching attacks against American forces.

Bases across southern Iraq have seen a deadly jump in rocket and mortar attacks, including the use of IRAMs, or improvised rocket assisted mortars, which are deadly short-range munitions that can be launched from the back of a truck. American forces traveling on roads around the country have encountered an increased number of armor-piercing explosives known as EFPs, or explosively formed penetrators.

Shiite militias operating throughout southern Iraq and the Baghdad area are trying to portray themselves as driving out the Americans from the country and keeping them from trying to negotiate a long-term American troop presence here.

This summer, American and Iraqi forces operating in southern Iraq have been increasing operations against Shiite militias in an attempt to disrupt weapons smuggling from Iran, which could account for some of the drop in U.S. troop deaths.

In Maysan province, the Iraqi government has also replaced the Iraqi army and Iraqi police commanders. U.S. military officials in the province have praised both the new Iraqi army general and police commander as being more aggressive about trying to disrupt the weapons smuggling.

Maysan province borders Iran and the marshlands that straddle the border are often used by weapons smugglers who cross into Iraq from Iran and then fan out across the country.

While U.S. troop deaths have dropped, Iraq still remains a dangerous place. Earlier this week 29 people were killed when a suicide bomber disguised as a beggar walked into a Sunni mosque in western Baghdad and blew himself up.