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U.S. troops are bracing for more potential violence in Iraq following the already bloody start of Ramadan, the monthlong Muslim holiday of fasting and prayer.

At Forward Operating Base Q-West, in the southeast corner of the Ninevah province, commanders with the 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division said they are meeting head-on the possibility of a greater number of attacks.

Capt. Iven T. Sugai, commander of Alpha Company, said that “the best defense is a good offense.”

The unit has launched a series of raids meant to disrupt enemy plans.

“Historically what we’ve seen are a greater number of attacks before and during Ramadan,” Sugai said. “It is a very significant time. Attacks in this period have more influence on the people, the attacks are more monumental.”

But at least one chaplain was marking the holiday by creating and passing out brochures on Ramadan to the troops so they could better understand their Muslim peers.

Insurgents wasted no time making a bold move, assassinating a key figure on Thursday, the first day of Ramadan.

Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, a sheik who organized 15 Sunni Arab clans to drive al-Qaida terrorists out of Anbar province, was killed by a bomb hidden near his house just west of Ramadi. He died 10 days after meeting with President Bush.

On Friday, four soldiers were killed in Diyala province by an explosive near their vehicle. A soldier from Task Force Marne was killed and four were wounded when a bomb exploded near their foot patrol.

Late Saturday, a parked car exploded in southwest Baghdad, killing at least 11 people lined up to buy bread at a bakery to break that day’s fast.

On Sunday, a booby-trapped bicycle exploded near a cafe serving tea and food during Ramadan fasting hours, killing five people in Tuz Khormato, 130 miles north of Baghdad.

Also Sunday, suspected al-Qaida militants killed 14 people in Muqdadiyah, a predominantly Sunni Arab town north of Baghdad.

Not all of the attacks are necessarily related to Ramadan. But the period of heightened religious observance presents a tempting opportunity for insurgents to maximize the reach of their message, commanders say.

Since the war in Iraq began in 2003, attacks against U.S. forces have increased dramatically during Ramadan and dropped immediately afterward.

Earlier this month, a Sunni coalition that includes al-Qaida in Iraq said it was forming special battalions for those who sought martyrdom during Ramadan.

At Forward Operating Base Hammer, about 20 miles east of Baghdad, Maj. Joe Sowers, public affairs officer for the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, said he couldn’t discuss specific measures that could be taken during Ramadan.

“We are constantly looking at what the enemy is doing and analyzing what he’s doing. … If [enemy activity] does increase, we will be ready. If it doesn’t increase, we’ll be ready for that, too,” Sowers said.

Spc. Kathy Yeung, 21, of Oakland, Calif., said she was going to try to be respectful of local customs. “I know that around Ramadan I won’t be eating in front of Muslims or smoking around them,” she said.

In Anbar province, David Bowerman, chaplain for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, distributed a brochure explaining Ramadan’s significance and giving tips for being culturally sensitive.

An imam was brought in to talk to troops about Ramadan, Bowerman said.

Spc. Christopher Knisley, 38, of Knoxville, Tenn., said he was in Iraq during Ramadan before. “I know it’s about a 20-day-long religious holiday that lasts from sunrise to sunset and that the Quran is read every day,” he said.

Pfc. Joel Celona, 30, of Boston, of the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment, admitted he didn’t know too much about Ramadan. “I know it’s a month of prayer,” he said.

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