At least 36 U.S. troops died in Iraq Wednesday, making it the deadliest day since the invasion nearly two years ago. Thirty-one of the dead were aboard a U.S. Marine helicopter that crashed during the pre-dawn hours in western Iraq. The commander of coalition forces in that area says 30 of the dead were Marines, and one was a U.S. Navy sailor.
The Marine Corps says the transport helicopter was involved in what it calls "security and stabilization operations" about 150 kilometers from the Jordanian border (near Ar Rutbah). The Marines will not comment on the possible cause of the crash, but there was reported to be bad weather in the area, and there are no indications that anyone fired on the helicopter.
An investigation is in progress.
Four other Marines were killed in action in the same Iraqi province (Al-Anbar), and an American soldier died in a rocket-propelled grenade attack north of Baghdad.
And in the far north, near the city of Kirkuk, two suicide car bombers attacked an Iraqi army post and police station, nearly simultaneously, killing nine people, three of them civilians. A third suicide car bomber also detonated his device at the same time on a nearby highway. A short time later, U.S. troops came under fire as they drove to the scene of the attacks.
Insurgents have threatened to disrupt the Iraqi election, scheduled for Sunday, and U.S. military commanders predicted the current increase in attacks. They have responded with an increase in operations designed to disrupt insurgent activities.
At a news conference at the White House, President Bush commented on Wednesday's deaths: "The story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people. I understand that. We value life. And we weep and mourn when soldiers lose their life."
But the president said the United States will continue with its mission to establish security and democracy in Iraq: "That mission is to enable Iraq to defend herself from terrorists, home grown or terrorists that come in from outside of the country."
The president said enough U.S. troops will remain in Iraq long enough to do the job, and at the same time training will increase for Iraq's new security forces.