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First Combat Death in Iraq Since November

WASHINGTON - The combat death of a U.S. soldier Tuesday in Iraq was the first in 43 days, the longest stretch since the war began.

The soldier's death comes as U.S. forces begin to intensify efforts to withdraw from Iraq. President Obama has said the combat mission in Iraq will cease for U.S. troops at the end of 2010, and all U.S. forces will be withdrawn by the end of 2011. There are 112,000 U.S. servicemembers there now.

Insurgent attacks and U.S. combat fatalities have fallen since mid-2007 after Gen. David Petraeus launched a counterinsurgency strategy backed by tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops.

Many former militants also turned against militants, opting to take payments to work as security guards on behalf of U.S. forces and the Iraqi government. In mid-2007, there were more than 200 insurgent attacks a day in Iraq, and there are now fewer than 15, Petraeus said earlier this week.

Spc. David A. Croft Jr., 22, of Plant City, Fla., died Tuesday in Baghdad when his unit was attacked with a makeshift bomb and small-arms fire. Roadside bombs are the No. 1 cause of U.S. troop deaths.

Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution said the length of time between combat deaths was good news but noted that casualties were also relatively light for U.S. forces in 2003 and 2004 when the insurgency "metastasized."

O'Hanlon noted the trend now is encouraging because casualties remain light for Iraqi security forces and because civilian deaths have not increased as U.S. forces have reduced their role.

Megan Ortagus, a spokeswoman for the Institute for Study of War, a think tank in Washington, said a decline in combat deaths underscores that a measure of stability has been achieved in Iraq. "However, any loss of life in a combat situation underscores the fragile nature of that success."

More than 4,300 U.S. troops have died in Iraq.

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