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Mexico deadlier than Iraq

Drug-related bloodshed has killed more than 4,400 people across Mexico this year – a body count that has already exceeded the U.S. military death toll of 4,192 in the Iraq war since March 20, 2003.

Violence involving soldiers, police and gangs has resulted in murders of 387 people in the first two weeks of October alone, and 58 killings were reported on Nov. 3, the day drug hitmen ambushed and killed two police officers with grenades and guns.

The violence is not letting up in Mexico, where brutal murders are reported daily. This month is no exception.

On Election Day, a jet carrying Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño, the second highest official of the Mexican government, crashed in Mexico City. Fourteen people, including Mouriño, were killed, and 40 were injured. Many people believe the plane was a cartel target because top crime-fighting officials were aboard, including former Assistant Attorney-General José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos – an official whose name was found on a hit list.

Mexican authorities claim there is no evidence that the plane was targeted.But according to a survey published by the Milenio newspaper, 56 percent of Mexicans are refusing to believe the plane crash was an accident, even if police determine so.

This week, two disabled police officers were shot to death in Juarez, across the border from El paso, Texas. They were part of a special unit to help disabled people, the Associated Press reported. One officer was nearly blind while the other was wheelchair-bound.

Twelve police officers were murdered in the first week of November. Mexican gunmen armed with automatic rifles and grenades also riddled police chief Juan Manuel Pavon Felix and three other men with bullets in Nogales just last week, while another police chief, Alejandro Parada, was shot to death Friday.

Another man was handcuffed, decapitated and put into a plastic bag hanging from a Juarez bridge. His head was found in another bag in a nearby plaza. Kidnappers also murdered a 5-year-old boy in Mexico City by injecting his heart with acid.

Gunfire erupted Friday after Mexican drug gangs clashed inside a Mazatlan prison, killing five people. According to a Reuters report, guns and drugs are common in most Mexican prisons filled with drug and organized-crime convicts.

This weekend also marked bloody deaths of 10 people – including policemen – in Tijuana. Drug hitmen killed three of the men in drive-by shootings, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Meanwhile, Mexican police captured the country’s most feared death squad boss, Jaime “The Hummer” Gonzales this week, along with the largest arms collection in Mexico history – 540 rifles, 165 grenades, 500,000 rounds of ammunition and 14 sticks of TNT – all near the U.S. border.

The FBI said Gonzales is suspected of ordering dozens of hitmen to Reynosa for a confrontation with U.S. police, London’s Telegraph reported.

Security analyst Fred Burton at the Austin, Texas-based Stratfor firm, a private intelligence and analysis company, told Voice of America he is concerned that the violence is spilling into the U.S.

“If you talk to the border sheriffs, which I do – if you talk to the police departments along the border, they will tell you they have a significant problem with cross-border abductions, murders, the homicide rate, and it impacts on us all in the United States,” Burton said.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada told Green Valley News, “When they go after cops, this is scary. It’s the work of brazen, seemingly fearless executioners.”

He said the violence can easily spill over into the U.S.: “The border is an invisible line.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory in October for Americans who visit Mexico. Public shootouts, muggings, murders and bank robberies are rampant – even in broad daylight – and Mexican criminals harass U.S. travelers along border regions.

“Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have taken on the characteristics of small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and, on occasion, grenades,” the State Department warned.

Meanwhile, Mexican officials have launched a desperate campaign to draw American tourists back into Juarez after many decided to stay away from the region, the Associated Press reports. Billboards tout the city as the “land of encounters.”