BAGHDAD -- Two U.S. soldiers were killed in action in central Iraq over the weekend, the military announced Monday.
Officials provided no further details about the deaths, which came after the fatal shooting of a U.S. soldier by a sniper in early December in eastern Wasit province. The killings raised American military deaths in Iraq since March 2003, when U.S. forces invaded the country, to 4,432, according to the independent website icasualties.org.
About 49,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Iraq, down from a high of about 170,000 troops in 2007 at the height of the military's surge to quell the country's civil war. The remaining troops are expected to be withdrawn from Iraq at the end of 2011 when an Iraqi-U.S. security agreement authorizing their presence expires.
The U.S. military declared its formal combat operations over at the end of August, and the remaining soldiers are largely present to train Iraqi forces. However, American troops are called in by Iraqi forces on occasion for sensitive missions.
With the change in the U.S. forces' mission over time, the death toll among Americans has dropped significantly. Twenty-two U.S. troops were killed last year by hostile fire, down from a high of 767 in 2007, according to icasualties.org.
Armed Shiite and Sunni groups still view U.S. forces as a valid target. The soldier killed in December was guarding a team of diplomats who were traveling around to meet local officials. The recent killings illustrate the continuing precarious situation for military personnel.
Meanwhile, gunmen broke into the home early Monday of a 44-year-old Christian woman and shot her dead, a police official said. Yonadam Kanna, a Christian member of parliament, said he understood that police suspected the killing was not related to politics and warned that at times the banner of al-Qaida in Iraq is used to shield criminal activities.
"Everything is hanged on al-Qaida," the official said. "These people are both criminals and terrorists."
Since Oct. 31, when the siege of a church in Baghdad left 58 people dead, militants have repeatedly targeted the minority group and prayed upon its elderly and women with bombings and shootings. Christians have also been threatened by Islamic militants in the northern city of Mosul.
Early Monday, an Iraqi policeman was shot dead by men with silencer pistols, a police official said. The killing came after the shooting of four police officers in the span of an hour late Sunday, according to security sources.
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