Five US troops killed in Iraq

Five American troops have died from combat wounds in western Iraq and Baghdad, the military said today, pushing the US death toll since the war began close to 3,000.

Five American troops have died from combat wounds in western Iraq and Baghdad, the military said today, pushing the US death toll since the war began close to 3,000.

In December, 76 American troops have been killed; at the current rate, the number of US combat deaths this month could meet or exceed the previous monthly record for 2006.

At least 2,964 American troops have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates wrapped up his trip to Iraq, saying he hopes to give a report to President George Bush this weekend on what he learned during his three days of meetings with military and political leaders.

Gates declined to say whether he plans to recommend a short-term increase in US troop levels. But he said he believes the US and Iraqis have "a broad strategic agreement between the Iraqi military and Iraqi government and our military".

"There is still some work to be done," Gates said. "But I do expect to give a report to the president on what I've learned and my perceptions."

Bush is considering whether to send thousands of additional US troops to the country to control the violence. There are 140,000 American troops in Iraq.

One US soldier died and another was wounded today when their patrol came under "sporadic small arms and indirect fire", the military said in a statement. On Thursday, three Marines and one US sailor died from wounds sustained in combat in western Anbar province, the military said.

Their names were withheld pending notification of their families.

US-led forces launched multiple raids across Iraq, killing one terrorist and capturing 25 terror suspects, the military said.

The operations targeted foreign fighters and the al-Qaida in Iraq network, the military said in a statement. The suspects were believed to be responsible for the movement of foreign fighters, car bombs and direct attacks on Iraqi civilians and coalition forces, it said.

An al-Qaida in Iraq financier was also captured, the statement said.

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