BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Three U.S. service members were killed in southern Iraq, the U.S. military said on Thursday, making June the deadliest month for American troops in Iraq in three years.
The three deaths on Wednesday brought to 14 the number of U.S. personnel who have died in hostile incidents this month, the U.S. military said.
More than eight years after the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, the United States still has around 47,000 troops in Iraq. A full withdrawal is expected by year-end, in accordance with a joint security pact.
While overall violence has steadily declined since the height of sectarian conflict in 2006-7, gun and bomb attacks still occur daily, often targeting Iraq's army and police.
Attacks against U.S. soldiers also appear to be rising as Iraq's leaders discuss the divisive issue of whether to ask some to stay beyond December.
Earlier this month, six U.S. soldiers were killed in a rocket attack on a Baghdad base, the biggest single loss of life since 2009.
June's total marked the highest number killed since June 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Defense personnel and procurement statistics website http://siadapp.dmdc.osd.mil/.
"Militants may be trying to send a message that the deadline is non-negotiable," said John Drake, a risk consultant with UK-based security firm AKE.
"A militant push now could be claimed further down the line that the responsible groups succeeded in forcing the U.S. military out of the country. It will serve as good propaganda and recruitment material for the relevant groups."
Senior Iraqi military commanders have said they believe some kind of continuing U.S. military presence is necessary to ensure Iraq's security and defense needs, especially in an advisory and training role.
The United States officially ended combat operations in Iraq last August. American troops are now mainly involved in a support and training role, and helping Iraqi security forces in counter-terrorism operations.
(Reporting by Serena Chaudhry; editing by Robert Woodward)