US deaths in Iraq reached the sobering milestone of 3,000 even as the US president George W. Bush administration sought to overhaul its strategy for an unpopular conflict that shows little sign of abating.
The latest death came during one of the most violent periods during which the Pentagon says hate and revenge killings between Iraq's sects are now a bigger security problem than ever.
The death of a Texas soldier, announced on Sunday by the Pentagon, raised the number of US military deaths in Iraq to at least 3,000 since the war began in March 2003.
Bush is struggling to salvage a military campaign that, more than three-and-a-half years after US forces overran the country, has scant support from the American public.
In large part because of that discontent, voters gave Democrats control of the new Congress that convenes this week. Democrats have pledged to focus on the war and Bush's conduct of it.
Three thousand deaths are tiny compared with casualties in other protracted wars the US has fought in the last century.
Even so, the steadily mounting toll underscores the relentless violence that the massive US investment in lives and money -- surpassing US$350 billion -- has yet to tame, and may in fact still be getting worse.
A Pentagon report on Iraq said last month that the conflict now is more a struggle between Sunni and Shiite armed groups "fighting for religious, political and economic influence," with the insurgency and foreign terrorist campaigns "a backdrop."
From the period covering mid-August to mid-November, the weekly average number of attacks in the country increased 22 percent from the previous three months.
US deaths in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion
* 500 killed by Jan. 17, 2004
* 1,000 by Sept. 7, 2004
* 1,500 by March 3, 2005
* 2,000 on Oct. 25, 2005
* 2,500 by June 15, 2006
* 3,000 by Dec. 31, 2006
Total US deaths in other armed conflicts
* Persian Gulf War: 382
* Vietnam War: 58,000
* Korean War: 36,000
* World War II: 405,000
* World War I: 116,000
Source: AP, US defense department
The worst violence was in Baghdad and in the western province of Anbar, long the focus of activity by Sunni insurgents, said a report last month.
Though US-led coalition forces remained the target of the majority of attacks, the overwhelming majority of casualties were suffered by Iraqis, the report said.
Bush told an end-of-the-year press conference that the deaths distressed him.
"The most painful aspect of the presidency is the fact that I know my decisions have caused young men and women to lose their lives," Bush said.
Asked about the 3,000 figure, deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said on Sunday that the president "will ensure their sacrifice was not made in vain."
"We will be fighting violent jihadists for peace and security of the civilized world for years to come. The brave men and women of the US military are fighting extremists in order to stop them from attacking on our soil again," Stanzel said.
Representative Edward Kennedy called the figure a "tragic milestone" and said the government owes its troops "a new policy that is worthy of their heroism and brings them safely home."
In a statement Bush released on Sunday to wish the troops and all Americans a happy new year, the president said the nation depends on the men and women in the armed services and are mindful of their dedication and sacrifice.
"Last year, [the US] continued its mission to fight and win the war on terror and promote liberty as an alternative to tyranny and despair," Bush said in the statement released from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he and first lady Laura Bush were spending New Year's Eve in the company of friends.