BAGHDAD — As 2006 came to an end, the steadily rising toll of U.S. troops killed in Iraq hit another grim milestone -- 3,000.
The latest marker came Sunday as President Bush prepared to lay out his proposals for changing U.S. strategy in Iraq. Bush has been meeting with advisors at his ranch near Crawford, Texas, and White House officials have said he could announce his plans this week.
Bush appears to be leaning toward a troop increase. Some advisors believe more troops could allow U.S.-led forces to tamp down the sectarian war that the Pentagon has identified as the main source of instability in Iraq.
Others, including some ranking U.S. commanders and many members of Congress, believe that sending more U.S. troops to Iraq would only worsen the situation by reducing the pressure on Iraq's warring parties to settle their differences.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday January 12, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
War dead memorial: A caption in the Jan. 1 Section A with a photo of the Arlington West memorial on Santa Monica Beach said it had 3,000 crosses and Stars of David that symbolized U.S. service members killed in Iraq. The memorial also includes Islamic crescents representing American Muslim troops who have died there.
Asked about the latest death toll, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Bush "grieves for each one" and "will ensure their sacrifice was not made in vain."
Since the summer, U.S. commanders have increased the number of troops in Baghdad in an effort to quell the civil war here with stepped-up patrols. That strategy has had little effect on the violence, and has increased the number of U.S. troops killed in the capital.
In that regard, the most recently announced deaths were typical of many in the last several months: The Pentagon said that Army Spc. Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Texas, had been killed Thursday by small-arms fire in Baghdad.
The U.S. military command here announced that another, still unidentified, soldier had died Saturday, also in the capital, when a roadside bomb exploded near his patrol. The military typically delays announcements of deaths to allow relatives to be notified first.
Overall, the rate of military fatalities has remained steady for more than 2 1/2 years, since the insurgency against the U.S. occupation of Iraq began to gain strength in 2004. The U.S.-led invasion in the spring of 2003 took the lives of 140 American troops, then, after an initial lull, the 1,000th death was announced in September 2004 and the 2,000th in October 2005.
U.S. casualties continue to be eclipsed by the death toll among Iraqis. At least 5,900 Iraqi police officers and soldiers have died since 2003, according to the Iraq Index, a database maintained by Brookings Institution think tank. Estimates of civilian death tolls have varied widely, from tens of thousands to more than half a million.
The 3,000th U.S. military death comes in the wake of the execution of deposed President Saddam Hussein, an event that military leaders believe will lead to more attacks against U.S. troops, at least in the short term.
The U.S. military took no official notice of the 3,000 figure, and some commanders played down the number of fatalities. U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway said in an interview that, given the significance of Iraq and Afghanistan to U.S. national security, the death toll in those two countries was not excessive.
On average, slightly more than two U.S. troops die in Iraq a day, compared with 300 or more a day during World War II, he said.
But the intensity of the fighting and the sense that many American troops are caught in the crossfire of a civil war have helped undermine public support for the U.S. presence in Iraq. Sunday, two prominent Republican senators said in television interviews that they had reservations about sending more troops to Iraq.
"The administration needs to identify precisely where the battle lines are -- who is it we combat. I haven't seen such lines," said Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Sen. Arlen Specter, who just returned from a trip to the Middle East, said he, too, had not seen the administration lay out a compelling case for troop increases. Lugar spoke on "Fox News Sunday" and Specter on CNN's "Late Edition."
Anthony Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a public letter last week that the fighting is more intense than the death toll implies.
New protective measures and advances in military medicine reduce the number of deaths, but not the difficulty of the war, he said, noting that the total number of U.S. casualties reached 25,000 in mid-December.
More than 24,800 additional troops sustained noncombat-related injuries -- illnesses, vehicle crashes and other accidents -- serious enough to require air transport.
And attacks against U.S. and Iraqi security forces are increasing. The military does not release specific numbers, but the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan government committee convened to find new approaches to the conflict, reported last month that the number of attacks averaged 180 a day in October, up from 70 a day in January.