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U.S. Envoy Describes Troop Withdrawal


From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Seven US Marines died yesterday in fighting in Iraq. They were killed in Anbar province in the west of the country. More than 1,800 US troops have died since the invasion in March of 2003. We're joined from Baghdad by NPR's Philip Reeves.

And, Philip, what more have you learned about what's happened to these Marines who were killed?

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Well, the US military says that the Marines were out on foot conducting operations outside Hadithah. Five of them were killed by small arms fire. Now that's a term that usually refers to Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades. One of them was unaccounted for and his body was later found a few kilometers away and safely recovered. Now a seventh Marine was killed by a suicide car bomb while he was conducting combat operations elsewhere in a place called Hit, and a statement's appeared on the Internet purporting to be from al-Qaeda in Iraq claiming responsibility for that killing.

BLOCK: So six of these Marines killed were in this town of Hadithah. This has been a trouble spot, is that right, in the Sunni triangle for some time?

REEVES: Yes, it has. It's one of the areas where the Sunni-led insurgency has been at its most persistent. In fact, only last week two American Marines from the same combat team as the six who died yesterday were attacked and killed and that was part of a firefight in the same area near Hadithah--in a village near Hadithah in which there was an air strike eventually, and the US military said it killed nine insurgents.

BLOCK: Philip, we mentioned that with these deaths more than 1,800 American troops have now been killed since the invasion in 2003. Is the pace of US casualties accelerating? Can you put this into some context for us?

REEVES: If you take January through July of last year, 2004, and compare it with this year then the number of US deaths is higher by 35. There have been 411 so far this year. If you look at just July of last year and July of this year the number is exactly the same. It's 54. And it should also, to be fair, be pointed out that 54 in July is considerably less--it's less than half of the worst month suffered by the US in Iraq and that was in last November when 137 military personnel died. That was actually during the operation to clear out Fallujah in that month.

BLOCK: Philip, all of this is happening as there's been what seems to be a fair amount of talk about possible withdrawal of US forces from at least some parts of the country. The new US ambassador was talking about that yesterday.

REEVES: Yes, and American and British officials have been meeting Iraqi ministers to discuss the possible transfer of security from foreign to Iraqi troops. There is, of course, no time line, and it will depend totally on the ability of the Iraqi forces to take control of parts of Iraq and to maintain security in those areas. The insurgency has a strategy which is persistently pursued of attacking the Iraqi police and army, not only recruits but those also actually in action and in uniform, to try to make it as hard as possible to stand up those forces. But talks are under way on that subject.

BLOCK: Now what parts of the country might this be most likely to happen?

REEVES: Well, they're looking at trying to make a transfer in areas which are relatively quiet. They say that some 14 of the 18 provinces are relatively stable and that would be the areas that they start making the transfer and leaving the US troops, of course, in place in the worst and most violent areas.

BLOCK: NPR's Philip Reeves in Baghdad. Philip, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.