The monthly death toll for U.S. service members in Iraq hit a two-year high Friday.
Three Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5 were fatally wounded while fighting insurgents in Al Anbar province, bringing the December figure to 107, the military said. That is the highest monthly tally since January 2005, according to the website icasualties.org.
Forty-seven of the deaths occurred in Al Anbar, a western province that is a haven for Sunni Arab insurgents. The Baghdad area was next in number of deaths.
More than half the fatalities in December occurred during attacks involving improvised explosive devices, the website reported.
The remaining troops were killed by gunfire, mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and in vehicle accidents, including a helicopter crash. Two servicemen died of illness.
The Marine deaths reported Friday brought the number of U.S. military fatalities in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion to 2,996, icasualties.org said, with 816 of them occurring this year. Last year, 846 American service members died; in 2004, the figure was 848.
The number of U.S. wounded is also down this year -- 5,676 compared with 5,947 in 2005 and 8,001 in 2004.
Meanwhile, U.S. military officials said they had released the last two of five Iranian nationals detained by U.S. troops in raids Dec. 20-21 in Baghdad’s central Jadriya neighborhood, according to Iraqi officials.
When the two Iranians were taken into custody, they were at the office of Hadi Amiri, leader of the Badr Brigade Shiite militia, the Iraqi officials said.
The office is in the compound of Abdelaziz Hakim, who leads the Badr-affiliated Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
In the raid, the military seized documents, maps, photographs and videos linking the two Iranians to illegal weapons shipments to armed groups in Iraq, Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV said this week.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the two Iranians had diplomatic passports and therefore were entitled to immunity.
Iraqi officials said they would work with Iran to create better accountability for diplomatic visitors.
Zebari said the three other Iranians had been apprehended while driving from a mosque service.
Zebari said they were released two days ago and returned to work at the Iranian Embassy.
Army Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said the incidents were under investigation.
In Diyala province on Friday, a suicide bomber outside a Shiite mosque killed 10 people, including Sheik Kadhim Bayati.
Around Kirkuk, gunmen killed four Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint about 40 miles south of the northern oil hub; U.S. military officials said troops killed a suspected insurgent in the area with “precision-guided munition"; and a roadside bomb killed two civilians in north Kirkuk.
Also, the body of a policeman was found about 40 miles southwest of the city, Iraqi officials said.
In Baghdad, U.S. troops killed six alleged insurgents in separate military operations, and in one operation they destroyed two buildings reportedly being used to produce improvised explosives, U.S. military officials said.
In the southern province of Babil, gunmen killed a police officer and two civilians, Iraqi authorities said.
Special correspondents in Kirkuk, Baghdad and Baqubah contributed to this report.