ARLINGTON, Va. — While U.S. troops in Iraq no longer patrol what is now being called “no-go zones,” volatile areas such hotly contested cities such as Ramadi, Najaf, Fallujah and Samarra, the absence of forces has not created a safe haven for insurgents, the Pentagon’s top military leader said Tuesday.

Declining to provide specifics because it might reveal operational secrets, Gen. Richard Myers told reporters there were logical reasons behind decisions to keep U.S. forces from going after pockets of enemies, reasons topped by arrangements with the interim government that would leave that responsibly to the new Iraqi security forces once they are prepared to take over, Myers said.

“They’re all a little bit different in terms of the strategy we’re using, where some of the insurgents are not able to travel outside of those communities,” Myers said during a Pentagon press briefing flanked by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “There are places where we do not conduct patrols, we don’t conduct joint patrols, but they’re all going to be dealt with on priorities developed by the Iraqi government and by coalition forces.”

This summer, Marines withdrew from active patrols in Fallujah as ceasefire agreements were brokered between top U.S. military leaders and governing council members.

There are now about 95,000 adequately trained and equipped Iraqi forces who could take over some of the patrolling missions once done by U.S. forces, Myers said. That number is down from 206,000 number the Pentagon touted as available earlier this year — before realizing they were poorly trained and equipped. By mid-2005, Rumsfeld said the number should go to more than 200,000.

As of Tuesday, some 997 U.S. servicemembers have died since the start of the Iraq war, according to a count by The Associated Press based on Defense Department figures.

Rumsfeld sidestepped a question on the fact that the 1,000 U.S. casualty milestone was near. “A single loss of life is large and it’s a life that’s not going to be lived,” he said.

He noted that the death toll of victims of terrorism — including the some 3,000 lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — has far dwarfed 1,000.

Rumsfeld blamed “a combination of terrorists, former regime elements, and criminals” for the continuing violence in Iraq.

In the single deadliest attack against American troops in four months, seven U.S. Marines and three Iraqi soldiers were killed on Monday when a car bomb exploded near their convoy on the outskirts of Fallujah, west of Baghdad. Six American soldiers were later killed in attacks in and around Baghdad, the U.S. military said Tuesday.

Rumsfeld defended the U.S. plan of operation in Iraq against criticism that the war plan was flawed and that the United States and its coalition partners had severely underestimated the enemy.

“No war plan survives the first contact with the enemy,” Rumsfeld said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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