The U.S. death toll in Iraq increased in January, ending a four-month drop in casualties, and most of the deaths occurred outside Baghdad or the once-restive Anbar province, according to military statistics.
In all, 38 American service members had been reported killed in January by Thursday evening, compared with 23 in December. Of those, 33 died from hostile action, but only nine of them in Baghdad or Anbar.
Whew! Not that many where the media's cameras are located! Still, it's enough to justify calling off the troop withdrawals scheduled for later in the year.
American commanders in Iraq are even more circumspect. Nearly all agree that al Qaida in Iraq is weaker since the U.S. troop buildup began, but they caution that violence probably would return to places such as Baghdad and Anbar if American troops left.
Earlier this month, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the commander of Multinational Division Central, which includes Baghdad, warned against pulling out U.S. troops too quickly.
"If you've got an area that you've taken away and you walk away from it, 96 hours later the enemy is back — and he's intimidating the population (and) he's killing innocent people," Lynch said. "So we have to manage this transition very diligently."