BAGHDAD (AFP) â€” At least 25 US troops were killed across Iraq in one of the deadliest days for the American forces since the invasion began, as the military said Sunday 3,200 new troops had arrived to quell Baghdad violence.
On the political front, lawmakers from Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr’s group ended a nearly two-month-old parliamentary boycott in a significant boost for Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s beleaguered government.
According to the US military, 25 troops were killed on Saturday alone, making it one of the bloodiest days for the American forces since January 26, 2005, when 36 servicemembers died.
The military in a series of statements piling up the body count, listed a helicopter crash, insurgent attacks and roadside bombs as being responsible for Saturday’s high casualty rate.
Five troops, it said in a statement Sunday, died in separate enemy attacks in the western Sunni Anbar province, a hotbed of anti-US insurgency where the military has lost the bulk of its troops since the invasion.
In another daring attack, five soldiers were killed in the southern shrine city of Karbala during a meeting to plan security measures for the 10-day Shiite mourning ceremony of Ashura that began Sunday.
The attack was carried out by gunmen wearing uniforms similar to those worn by Iraqi and US soldiers,Â Governor of Karbala Akhil Khazali said.
“The provincial joint coordination centre in Karbala was attacked with grenades, small arms and indirect fire by an illegal armed militia group,” the military said earlier Sunday.
Ashura, which commemorates the seventh-century slaying of the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Imam Hussein in Karbala, has been marred in recent years by attacks by Sunni extremists that have killed scores of people.
The worst incident for the military was when a Blackhawk transport helicopter went down northeast of Baghdad Saturday afternoon, killing 12 servicemembers on board.
Three other soldiers were killed in separate attacks across the country.
The latest fatalities took the military’s losses in Iraq since the invasion to 3,050, according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures.
As the death toll surged, a Newsweek poll found that more than two-thirds of Americans opposed sending 21,500 more troops to Iraq, the cornerstone of Bush’s policy shift for the war-torn nation.
About 68 per cent said Washington should not send additional troops, while 26 per cent support the increase.
The military, meanwhile, announced Sunday that 3,200 troops had arrived in Baghdad as part of the new security plan to rein in the sectarian violence that has left tens of thousands of Iraqis dead since it first broke out in February 2006.
“The effort represents the first of several planned troop movements that will assist Iraqi security forces in reducing violence and protecting Iraqi citizens,” a military statement said.
The new security plan aims to crack down mainly on Baghdad armed groups which are involved in killing people from the rival Shiite and Sunni communities.
In what is seen as part of the crackdown, Iraqi and US troops arrested Friday a senior aide of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, saying he was operating an illegal armed group engaged in killing civilians.
Sheikh Abdul Hadi Darraji was seized with four others from a religious site near Baghdad’s Shiite district of Sadr City â€” a bastion of Sadr loyalists and his militia, the Mehdi Army.
Perhaps anticipating further such swoops, the political bloc of Sadr ended Sunday its two-month boycott of the Iraqi parliament and government.
The group which has six ministers in Maliki’s Cabinet and 32 MPs in the 275-member parliament said their conditions to end the suspension had been met.
“We are rejoining the political process,” Saleh Hassan Issa Igaili, lawmaker from Sadr group told AFP adding that they had gotten a pledge from the parliament over the issue of foreign troop withdrawal from Iraq.
Lawmakers believe that the group’s return will boost Maliki’s government as well as help stall a major assault on their constituents.
“It helps strengthen Maliki’s position because they are allies,” Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman told AFP.
“It is also an indication by the Sadr group that they want to be part of the political process and not resort to violent methods at a time when Iraqi and US forces are targeting militias.” Rebel violence continued unabated on Sunday.
In the southern city of Basra, a roadside bomb killed a British soldier and wounded three others, taking the military’s losses since the invasion to 130.
At least nine Iraqis died in a series of attacks, while police the bodies of 29 people in Baghdad, apparent victims of sectarian violence.Â