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3 Americans killed in Iraq combat

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Two U.S. Marines and a sailor have been killed during combat operations in the western province of Anbar, the U.S. military said Friday, bringing to 18 the number of American troop fatalities in Iraq during April.

In March, nine troops died. April was the deadliest month since September for Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops, according to figures released Friday, but the overall number of attacks remained low compared with levels in previous years of the war, the military said.

At a briefing for journalists at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Army Maj. Gen. David Perkins, the chief military spokesman, said no overall increase had been detected in the number of attacks. Rather, he said, the insurgency had shifted to targets that allow it to kill large numbers of civilians and grab headlines.

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“They’re not anywhere near the number [of attacks] we had a year or a year and a half ago,” he said. “They’re going after soft targets that give them a lot of visibility.”

The Iraqi Ministry of Health reported that 355 Iraqis died in violence nationwide last month, 290 of them in bombings that included several high-profile attacks in which dozens of people were killed.

That’s a 41% increase from the number who died in March, reflecting a worrisome surge in violence levels.

In the worst single attack during the month, two suicide bombers on April 24 detonated explosive vests among pilgrims at a Shiite Muslim shrine in northeast Baghdad, killing 71 people. This week, 48 people were killed by five car bombings across Baghdad.

Despite the three additional U.S. deaths Thursday, American military fatalities remain sharply lower than they were during most of last year. In April 2008, 52 American service members were killed, according to the independent website icasualties.org, which monitors U.S. and coalition military death tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The recent rash of attacks has stoked concern that the Sunni Arab insurgency is reconstituting itself just as U.S. troops are preparing to withdraw from Iraq’s cities.

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American combat troops must be out of the cities by June 30, under the terms of the security pact reached with the Iraqi government in December.

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liz.sly@latimes.com

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