On a cool, bright morning in central Iraq yesterday, an insurgent opened fire at a US patrol, killing one soldier, the 1,000th American soldier to die in combat in Iraq since the invasion last year.
A brief statement from US Central Command in Florida, said: "One Task Force Baghdad soldier died of wounds received at about 11.30am, Dec 7." It added that his name was being withheld until his next of kin had been informed.
The death of the 1,000th US soldier in combat, as well as those who died in accidents, suicide or other means, underlines the increasingly precarious security situation as elections approach next month.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, said yesterday that he "cannot imagine" how the elections could take place on time. "Honestly speaking, I cannot imagine how it is possible to organise elections under conditions of total occupation by foreign forces," Mr Putin said during a meeting at the Kremlin with Iyad Allawi, the interim Iraqi Prime Minister.
The New York Times published a classified memo from the CIA station chief in Baghdad, who said the situation was deteriorating and was likely to get worse, with more violence and sectarian clashes, unless there was a considerable improvement in the efforts of the interim Iraqi government to assert authority and build the economy.
It is not known whether the cable mentioned the actions of the US troops in adding to the violence and chaos, and the mounting civilian death toll. The American ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, is believed to have written a dissent to the report, objecting to one finding as being too harsh because the US had made more progress than was described in combating the insurgency.
But it is clear that the battle for Fallujah has failed to break the back of the resistance as some US generals predicted. Since the US invaded on 19 March 2003, it has shown itself effective against regular forces fighting in a conventional manner. Saddam Hussein's elderly tanks and artillery were no match for US armour and airpower.
But the US military has shown itself vulnerable to guerrilla tactics when the enemy does not stand and fight. It has suffered heavy losses from simple but lethal devices such as the roadside bomb,
The military is also highly dependent on supply columns, with 3,000 vehicles in 250 convoys on the road every day, by one military estimate. These are frequently ambushed and protecting them eats up manpower. The 138,000 US troops in Iraq are to be increased to 150,000 for the election on 30 January.
The shortage of US troops meant Fallujah was never surrounded and many resistance fighters escaped. The US has been trying to train Iraqi government units but the only ones which show a willingness to fight have been Kurdish troops and, in some cases, Shia. This exacerbates sectarian tensions between the Sunni Muslims, who generally support the uprising, and the Kurdish and Shia communities.
Another sign of increasing sectarian tensions came yesterday when two churches in the northern city of Mosul were blown up by militants, injuring three people. In August, seven died in blasts in Baghdad and Mosul churches. Many Christians live in Mosul.