The battle for Baghdad claimed five more US troops as Iraqis began yesterday to mark the end of the Ramadan holiday marred by spiralling unrest and the murder of 17 police trainees.
Overnight, the bang and flash of colorful fireworks mingled with the more familiar crack of automatic weapons and the bright glow of decoy flares from US helicopters flying low over the city skyline.
But while Sunnis began to celebrate the three-day festival of Id al-Fitr -- Iraq's Shiite majority will follow suite today -- doctors battled to save the survivors of a brutal ambush on Sunday on a convoy of unarmed police recruits.
The death toll from the attack rose to 17 overnight, medics said, with more than 20 wounded after insurgents raked their buses with automatic fire.
"The incident took place while the victims were returning to Baghdad in a bus. They were killed near Khan Bani Saad," said interior ministry spokesman Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf.
"Afterwards, joint Iraqi and US forces went out and arrested two terrorists and killed three. Through interrogating them we managed to get good information and will act accordingly," he said.
US casualties were also mounting. The US military confirmed five more soldiers had been killed on Sunday in and around Baghdad in gun and bomb attacks, bringing the number killed this month to 85.
With one week to go, this month remains on course to become the bloodiest month for the US military in Iraq since November 2004, when Marines were engaged in a fierce battle in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.
Already, before Ramadan, UN and Iraqi officials were reporting more than 100 deaths per day.
When Ramadan began, US officials reported a "tremendous spike" in violence and attacks up by more than a fifth.
Bush met with his top Middle East generals and diplomats on Saturday, but has announced no new plan, despite press reports that he intends to increase pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government to disarm the militias.
"The truth of the matter is, there's a need for radical change in policy," said Senator Joseph Biden, an influential Democrat on the Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee.
Republican Senator Arlen Specter said he was encouraged by reports that Bush would push Maliki to take a bolder stance, but added: "I don't believe that a shift in tactics ought to wait until after the election."
"There are too many casualties there," he said. "If we have a better course, we ought to adopt it sooner rather than later."