BAGHDAD, Iraq – The American death toll reached 2,001 on Wednesday with the announcement that a soldier died in an accident the night before. Three mostly Sunni Arab parties said they have formed a coalition to compete in upcoming parliamentary elections as the minority moves to consolidate its power in the political arena.
The soldier, whose identity was withheld pending notification of relatives, died in a vehicle accident Tuesday evening near Camp Bucca (search), a U.S. detention center in southern Iraq, the military said. The statement raised by one the number of U.S. service members killed in the war a day after the somber milestone of 2,000 was reached.
A roadside bomb also destroyed a Humvee (search) in a U.S. convoy on Wednesday, but no American casualties were reported in the attack.
Elsewhere, at least 10 Iraqis were killed in attacks and an Internet statement claiming that the country's most feared terror group has abducted two Moroccan embassy employees.
The U.S. Senate (search) on Tuesday observed a moment of silence in honor of the fallen Americans.
"We owe them a deep debt of gratitude for their courage, for their valor, for their strength, for their commitment to our country," said Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist.
The milestone came amid growing doubts among the U.S. public about the Iraq conflict, launched in March 2003 to destroy Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction. No such arms were ever found.
In Iraq, many people heard of the 2,000 figure on Arab satellite TV channels such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.
Some Iraqis complained that the attention was misguided because far more Iraqis have died in the conflict than Americans. No one knows an exact number of Iraqi deaths, but there is some consensus — including from a U.S. military spokesman and outside experts — that an independent count of roughly 30,000 is a relatively credible tally of Iraqi civilian deaths.
An Associated Press count of war-related Iraqi deaths from the time Iraq's elected government took office on April 28 through Tuesday found at least 3,870 Iraqi deaths in that period alone. More than two-thirds were civilians while the rest were Iraqi security personnel.
"I hope the number of Americans who die goes even higher," said Omar Ahmed, 36, the Sunni Arab owner of an electricity shop in Dora, one of the most violent parts of Baghdad.
Nearby, Ali al-Obeidi, a 28-year-old Sunni Arab, said he hoped the U.S. losses would prompt the United States to leave Iraq.
"It makes me happy," he said about the grim 2,000 dead soldiers milestone. "They're an occupation force."
Al-Obeidi said the number pales in comparison to the thousands of dead Iraqis. "The Iraqis are my brothers. We saw nothing good from the Americans. They hurt us and their presence in Iraq is to blame for all the Iraqi deaths."
Such feelings are not shared by many of Iraq's majority Shiites, who were freed from the oppression and discrimination that they suffered under Saddam.
"Remnants of Saddam's regime are cooperating with al Qaeda in Iraq. And this, the killing of the Americans, will affect the stability and rebuilding of Iraq," said Hamid al-Sumaysim, 54, a Shiite shop owner in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. "The Americans liberated us and they will help us to rebuild our country."
Abdul Jabar Hassan, 48, a Shiite government electricity worker in the southern city of Basra, said the growing U.S. death toll could be the result of poor planning by the Bush administration about rebuilding Iraq after the war.
"I'm not surprised by this number," he said. "I expect it to go even higher because America did not plan for the postwar situation in Iraq or really understand its people."
An Internet statement posted on an extreme Islamist Web site Tuesday claimed that al Qaeda in Iraq had abducted two Moroccan Embassy employees in Baghdad. No demands were made in the statement and its authenticity could not be verified.
It came a day after the Moroccan Foreign Ministry said embassy driver Abderrahim Boualam and employee Abdelkrim el Mouhafidi disappeared Thursday after driving back from Jordan, where they had gone to pick up their paychecks.
Al Qaeda in Iraq has claimed responsibility for executing numerous hostages, including diplomats from Egypt and Algeria.
In a typical militant attack, four insurgents were waiting behind a Baghdad mosque Wednesday near the home of Nabil Yasir al Musawi, the top accountant in the antiquities and heritage section of Iraq's Tourism Ministry.
The attackers repeatedly fired into their vehicle, killing al Musawi and his driver, said police Capt. Talib Thamir.
"He didn't even have any money in the car at the time. We think it's just another act of terrorism aimed at government employees," Thamir said.
Suspected insurgents also gunned down five Iraqi policemen in the western city of Ramadi and two Iraqi soldiers in Tarmiyah, 30 miles north of the capital. A roadside bomb targeting police killed a civilian in Madain, 12 miles southeast of Baghdad.
Iraq Body Count, a British research group that compiles its figures from reports by the major news agencies and British and U.S. newspapers, has said that as many as 30,051 Iraqis have been killed since the war started. Other estimates range as high as 100,000.
U.S. and coalition authorities say they have not kept a count of Iraqi deaths, and Iraqi government accounting has proven to be haphazard.
In Washington Tuesday, President Bush warned the U.S. public to brace for more casualties in the fight against "as brutal an enemy as we have ever faced, unconstrained by any notion of common humanity and by the rules of warfare."
"No one should underestimate the difficulties ahead," Bush said.
The mostly Sunni Arab political parties announced they have formed a coalition called the Iraqi Accord to compete in parliamentary elections in December.
The General Conference for the People of Iraq, the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Iraqi National Dialogue have been urging members of the disaffected minority to take part in the Dec. 15 election.
Sunni Arabs largely boycotted the Jan. 30 election of Iraq's interim government of mostly majority Shiites and Kurds. But many Sunnis ignored calls by insurgents for a boycott of the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum in order to vote against the charter.
The constitution was overwhelming approved, large due to heavy support by Shiites and Kurds. Some Sunnis — who fear the constitution will lead to the breakup of Iraq and consolidate Kurdish and Shiite power in oil-rich areas — hope that if they increase their seats in parliament in the next election, they can vote for amendments in the constitution.