Thirty-one US troops were reported killed in a helicopter crash and five more died in insurgent attacks yesterday in the biggest single loss of life of American life in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, just four days before the country's landmark elections.
The heavy US toll came amid a series of guerrilla bombings and raids that killed 10 Iraqis in a campaign to sabotage Sunday's landmark election -- a cornerstone of US plans in Iraq.
CNN, quoting the US military, reported 31 Marines died when their transport helicopter went down in the deserts of the the restive Anbar province of western Iraq.
The military confirmed casualties to reporters but gave no figures, as search and rescue teams scoured the area. The cause of the crash was not immediately known.
Four US Marines were killed in action in Anbar province, and an American soldier was killed in in a rocket-propelled grenade attack north of Baghdad, US officials said.
The latest surge of insurgent attacks appeared aimed at sowing panic even as the US-backed interim government vowed stringent measures to safeguard the election, Iraq's first since the fall of former president Saddam Hussein in April 2003.
In a closely coordinated attack, three suicide car bombers hit the town of Riyadh, a Sunni Arab area southwest of Kirkuk.
Two explosives-laden cars blew up simultaneously close to an Iraqi army post and police station and a third vehicle detonated minutes later on a nearby highway, a local police chief said.
Four Iraqi policemen, two Iraqi soldiers and three civilians were killed, and at least 12 people were wounded, police said.
Shortly after the blasts, a US combat patrol heading to the scene came under small arms fire and two US soldiers were lightly wounded, the military said.
The previous deadliest day for US forces was March 23, 2003, the third day of the war, when 28 US soldiers died mostly in fierce fighting in southern Iraq.
Police in Baquba, a mixed Shiite and Sunni town 65km north of Baghdad, said one Iraqi policeman was killed and at least eight people were wounded when gunmen fired on the local offices of three parties contesting the polls.
Sunni insurgents have repeatedly targeted the country's fledgling security forces in the countdown to the election, accusing them of collaborating with US-led occupiers.
In Mosul, a rebel stronghold that has seen persistent violence, a video filmed by insurgents showed three Iraqi men who had apparently been taken hostage and who said they worked for Iraq's electoral commission in the city.
On the video, a hooded insurgent carrying a pistol read out a statement as another masked guerrilla crouched with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher on his shoulder.
"We are mujahideen in the province of Nineveh. What they call elections have no basis in the Islamic religion and that's why we will hit all election centers," the statement said.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon estimated that the conflict in Iraq costs US taxpayers US$4 million dollars a month. The White House is to seek US$80 billion in supplementary funding, mainly for Iraq and Afghanistan -- also implying that the army is not relying on Iraqi forces to replace foreign troops in the imminent future.