BAGHDAD — The U.S. military death toll in April became the highest in seven months when it hit 50 Wednesday — with more than half the losses in Baghdad as American forces wage growing street battles against Shiite fighters.
Iraqi civilian deaths also remained high after the Iraqi government crackdown on Shiite militia factions, which are accused by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of using residents as human shields during close combat in the teeming Sadr City slum.
The clashes in Sadr City — a base for the powerful Mahdi Army militia — show little sign of easing as Iraqi and U.S. troops try to exert control over an area containing nearly half of Baghdad's population.
At least five soldiers have been killed in the city since Tuesday, bringing the monthly count to at least 50 (27 in Baghdad) in the deadliest month since September when 65 U.S. troops died.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, at least 4,062 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq, according to an Associated Press count.
The U.S. military reported early today that a soldier was killed by an explosion Wednesday in Ninevah province.
Around Iraq, at least 1,080 Iraqi civilians and security forces were killed nationwide in April, or an average of 36 a day, according to an AP tally. That's down from March's total of 1,269, or an average of 41 per day.
But nearly 40 percent of the April deaths — 413 — occurred in Baghdad as violence returned to the capital, according to the AP figures compiled from reports from Iraqi police, hospital officials and government offices.
Civilian deaths have steadily risen this year, and spiked sharply after Maliki launched the offensive on Shiite militias on March 25 in the southern city of Basra. Fighting soon flared in Sadr City, which has become the epicenter of the battles.
It's difficult to determine the civilian toll from the ongoing clashes in Sadr City.
Meanwhile, local officials claimed a school in Sadr City was hit by a U.S. airstrike. The U.S. military did not specifically comment about the school.