SEOUL — Spc. Michael J. Smith and his dad, James, talked by phone approximately every two weeks, despite that Michael, 24, was in the midst of a tour in Iraq, according to a recent report from The Philadelphia Inquirer.

They last spoke on James’ birthday, Jan. 3, the paper reported.

Eight days later, Michael Smith died in Ramadi after a rocket-propelled grenade hit his military vehicle. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Casey, South Korea.

Smith’s death was the 36th from Strike Force since 3,600 soldiers assigned to South Korea were deployed to Iraq late last summer, according to data compiled by Stars and Stripes.

As of Thursday, a total of 1,356 servicemembers have died since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, according to the Pentagon.

Smith’s death came amid of a wave of discouraging news last week from Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi acknowledged for the first time that parts of Iraq would be too dangerous for voters to cast ballots, The New York Times reported. A car bomb Thursday north of Baghdad killed three and wounded 13. Also on Thursday, an aide to a top Shiite leader was gunned down, apparently targeted for his role in promoting the national elections scheduled for Jan. 30.

In the past few days, many in Washington and in Iraq, including the commander of American ground forces there, Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, have said parts of the country are not safe enough to hold the elections. They fear more violence from insurgents, rebels who military officials suspect are Sunni Muslims, a minority faction in power during Saddam Hussein’s reign.

In Coatesville, Pa., last week, James Smith remembered his last conversation with his son.

“He told me that he loved me and ‘happy birthday’ and things were going well,” Smith, 63, told The Inquirer.

The father told the paper that his son was a high-school dropout and had joined the military because “it was important that we be there and help these people. He was all about helping and doing what he could to help liberate these people, politics aside.”

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