Reporting from Baghdad — Two U.S. soldiers were killed in action in central Iraq over the weekend, the military announced Monday.
Officials provided no further details about the deaths, the first U.S. military fatalities in Iraq since the killing of a soldier by a sniper in early December in the eastern province of Wasit.
The killings raised American military deaths in Iraq since March 2003, when U.S.-led forces invaded the country, to 4,432, according to the independent website icasualties.org. Of those, 3,512 were killed by hostile fire.
About 49,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Iraq, down from about 170,000 troops in 2007 at the height of the military's buildup to quell the country's civil war. Those troops are expected to be withdrawn from Iraq at the end of 2011 when an Iraqi-U.S. security agreement authorizing their presence expires.
The U.S. military declared its formal combat operations over at the end of August, and the remaining soldiers are present largely to train Iraqi forces. However, American troops are called in by Iraqi forces on occasion for sensitive missions.
With the change in the U.S. forces' mission over time, the death toll among Americans in combat has dropped significantly. Twenty-two U.S. troops were killed last year by hostile fire, down from a high of 767 in 2007, according to icasualties.org.
Armed Shiite and Sunni groups still view U.S. forces as a valid target. The soldier killed in December was guarding a team of diplomats who were traveling around to meet local officials. The recent killings illustrate the continuing precarious situation for military personnel.
Also Monday, gunmen broke into the Baghdad home of a 44-year-old Christian woman and shot her dead, a police official said. Younadam Kanna, a Christian member of parliament, said police suspected the killing was not related to politics, and he warned that at times the banner of Al Qaeda in Iraq is used to shield criminal activities.
"Everything is hanged on Al Qaeda," the lawmaker said. "These people are both criminals and terrorists."
Since Oct. 31, when the siege of a church in Baghdad left 58 people dead, militants have repeatedly targeted the minority group, including several attacks recently against its elderly and women. Christians have also been threatened by Islamic militants in the northern city of Mosul.
Early Monday, a policeman was shot dead in the capital by men with silencer-equipped pistols, a police official said. The killing came after the shooting of four police officers in the span of an hour late Sunday, security sources said.