American military deaths in Iraq fall

BAGHDAD — The monthly toll of U.S. service members who have died in Iraq is on track to being the lowest in nearly two years, with at least 36 troop deaths recorded as of Tuesday, but the military cautioned it’s too early to declare a long-term trend.

At least 36 American service members have died so far in October, nearly a quarter from noncombat causes. Among them were three soldiers killed Tuesday when a bomb exploded as they patrolled southeast Baghdad, the military said.

It is the lowest number since 31 troops died in March 2006 and the second-lowest since 35 troop deaths in March 2005, according to an Associated Press count based on military figures.

That would be the second consecutive drop in monthly figures, after 65 Americans died in September and 84 in August.

In all, at least 3,842 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to the AP count.

Maj. Winfield Danielson, a military spokesman in Baghdad, pointed to a number of likely reasons for the decline, including a U.S. security push that has driven militants out of former safe havens. He also singled out the cease-fire call by militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who in August ordered his fighters to stop attacks against U.S.-led forces and other Iraqis for up to six months.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s prime minister said Tuesday that increased military action against separatist Kurdish rebels was “unavoidable” and pressed the United States for a crackdown on guerrilla bases in northern Iraq.

But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also suggested he was not seeking an immediate cross-border offensive against the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, holed up in bases in northern Iraq.

Erdogan flies to Washington on Monday for talks with President Bush that could be key to whether Turkey carries out its threat of a major military incursion.

In Washington, Democrats are debating whether to approve up to $70 billion more for Iraq and Afghanistan, only a down payment on Bush’s $196 billion war spending request but enough to keep the wars afloat for several more months.

Many Democrats want to pay only to bring troops home and say their leadership is not doing enough to end the war.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday he didn’t think Congress should approve the money and won’t deal with it immediately. Delaying the money signals to voters that “the president does not have a blank check,” he told reporters.

Democrats say one possibility is sending Bush a bill that would bundle together the defense and veterans spending he wants with extra money for education that he doesn’t. The bill would not likely include war funding, officials said.

On Tuesday, Bush said he would veto such a measure, calling it a “three-bill pileup.”

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