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A new military strategy has put soldiers more in harm's way in Iraq.
BAGHDAD - With just under two months left in the year, 2007 is on course to be the deadliest year on record for American forces in Iraq, despite a recent sharp drop in U.S. deaths.
The U.S. military has increased its exposure this year, reaching 165,000 troops - the highest levels yet. Moreover, the military's decision to send soldiers out of large bases and into Iraqi communities means more troops have seen more "contact with enemy forces" than ever before, said Maj. Winfield Danielson, a U.S. military spokesman.
Stationing U.S. troops in communities, where they have reduced the level of Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence, also appears to have helped win the trust of the leaders of Shiite and Sunni communities. And that has helped the United States persuade those leaders to join the fight against radical groups, especially al-Qaida in Iraq.
At least 1,023 Iraqi civilians died in September, but in October, the estimated figure was just 875.
But the same strategy that U.S. military officials say has reduced violence so sharply in recent months is what made 2007 so deadly for American forces.
Small patrol bases make attractive targets for insurgents. In April, nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 20 wounded when two suicide truck bombers rammed into their building in the heart of Diyala, northeast of Baghdad. It was the deadliest attack on U.S. troops in Iraq in a year and a half.
U.S. troops ventured out on Iraq's roads more frequently in 2007, and insurgents responded by building bigger, more powerful and harder to detect roadside bombs. On a single day in June, the military announced the deaths of 14 troops, most killed by such explosions.
But approaching the year's end - more than four months after U.S. forces completed the 30,000-strong force buildup - the monthly death toll among Americans and Iraqis has fallen significantly.
The number of U.S. troop deaths dropped from 65 to 36 in the same period, according to statistics kept by the Associated Press. That's the lowest monthly toll of American deaths this year.
On Sunday, 20 Iraqi civilians were killed or found dead across the country, including an aide to the finance minister, who was ambushed in Baghdad. Twelve of the deaths were in volatile Diyala province.
Kurdish rebels release eight Turkish soldiers
Kurdish rebels released eight Turkish soldiers Sunday on the eve of a meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Bush that aims to avert a cross-border offensive against guerrilla bases in northern Iraq.
The release removed a key source of domestic pressure on Erdogan to send troops into neighboring Iraq.
Turkey wants Washington to take specific measures to stop the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK, from using the border region as a staging area for attacks in its decadeslong war for political autonomy for Turkey's Kurdish minority.
The PKK has killed more than 40 Turks in cross-border raids in the past month.
The soldiers were seized in an Oct. 21 ambush inside Turkish territory that left 12 other soldiers dead.
By the numbers
Deaths in Iraq
847 U.S. military personnel who have died in Iraq so far in 2007.
850 U.S. military personnel who died in 2004, the bloodiest year of the war for the United States so far.
[Last modified November 5, 2007, 00:59:35]