(CNSNews.com) – On the last day of 2009, December was on track Thursday to become the first month since the United States invaded Iraq almost seven years ago when not one U.S. soldier, sailor, airman or Marine has died in that country in combat-related circumstances.
With the month drawing to a close, the Pentagon-reported death toll for Iraq stands at three, none of them combat-related.
A month with no combat deaths has not been recorded since hostilities began in March 2003. In November, two U.S. soldiers were killed in combat, and another two in October. Prior to that, the lowest number for any one month was four deaths (all occurred this year, in January, March, August and again in September.)
According to a Cybercast News Service database of Iraq war casualties, the deadliest months in Iraq were November 2004, when 139 Americans were killed in combat; April 2004, when 125 Americans died; and May 2007, when 121 lives were lost. (see table showing monthly combat deaths since 2003)
The imminent landmark achievement – no combat deaths in December – comes despite a swell in violence in Anbar province, much of it targeting politicians ahead of national elections scheduled for March.
In the deadliest incident, a double bombing in Anbar’s capital, Ramadi, on Wednesday killed at least 27 people and wounded the provincial governor. Previous attacks in the province include a car bombing in Ramadi in September, in which 25 people were killed.
Anbar is the largest of Iraq’s 18 provinces, the Sunni heartland where the tribal leader-backed “awakening” movement emerged in 2006 and turned on the terrorist insurgency. That movement, together with the U.S. troop “surge” that took effect from mid-2007, stemmed the tide of violence that had wracked Anbar and other parts of the country.
In 2006, Anbar accounted for almost half of the U.S. combat deaths recorded in the entire country – 325, according to the database. The following year’s Anbar combat death toll was 142, in 2008 it was 27 and this year, it stands at six. (see graph showing U.S. fatalities since the troop “surge”)
The most recent combat fatality in Anbar was the death on July 19 of Marine Lance Corporal Brandon Lara, a 20 year-old from Texas, who died while supporting combat operations there.
In September 2008, a largely pacified Anbar was handed over to Iraqi control. In mid-2009 U.S. forces there, as elsewhere in the country, were pulled back from urban areas in the first step of a staged withdrawal from Iraq.
The recent violence in Anbar, as well as in Baghdad and several other parts of the country, has been widely predicted in the run up to the election, the first in four years, as al-Qaeda and others feed fears of Shi’ite domination and try to expose weaknesses in Iraqi security.
The December 2005 election, which produced a coalition headed by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, went ahead relatively peacefully, but violence surged in the aftermath, sparking fears of a civil war until the troop surge brought Iraq back from the brink.
President Obama’s Iraqi withdrawal timetable envisages an end to all U.S. combat operations by the end of August 2010, and a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.
U.S. casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom in December
Marine Sgt. Ralph Anthony Webb Frietas, 23, of Detroit, Mich., died on Dec 8. as a result of “unknown causes” in Baghdad.
Army Pvt. Jhanner Tello, 29, of Los Angeles, Calif., died on Dec. 10 in Baghdad of injuries sustained during a non-combat related incident.
Army Pfc. Jaiciae L. Pauley, 29, of Austell, Ga., died on Dec. 11 in Kirkuk of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident.
The Pentagon says the circumstances surrounding the three deaths are under investigation.