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Sunday, March 23, 2008

4,000 and 488

Together with the news that 25 fuel trucks transporting fuel to our forces in Afghanistan were bombed today, it is a sad Easter as we reach our 4,000th fatal casualty in the Iraq War (not confirmed yet in the media, but I have received word of it via email by a knowledgeable source; ICasualties.org is showing the same) alongside our 488th fatal loss in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan under the Operation Enduring Freedom umbrella.

My thoughts and prayers to our military families.

[UPDATE] From AP:

A roadside bomb killed four U.S. soldiers in Baghdad on Sunday, the military said, pushing the overall American death toll in the five-year war to at least 4,000. The grim milestone came on the same day that rockets and mortars pounded the U.S.-protected Green Zone, underscoring the fragile security situation and the resilience of both Sunni and Shiite extremist groups despite an overall lull in violence.


In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

Continuing:

Military deaths rose above 100 for three consecutive months for the first time during the war: April 2007, 104; May, 126 and June at 101. The death toll has seesawed since, with 2007 ending as the deadliest year for American troops at 901 deaths. That was 51 more deaths than 2004, the second deadliest year for U.S. soldiers.

The milestones for each 1,000 deaths — while an arbitrary marker — serve to rivet attention on the war and have come during a range of pivotal moments. When the 1,000th American died in September 2004, the insurgency was gaining steam. The 2,000-death mark came in October 2005 as Iraq voted on a new constitution. The Pentagon announced its 3,000th loss on the last day of 2006 — a day after Saddam Hussein was hanged and closing a year marked by rampant sectarian violence.

The deaths taken by U.S. soldiers in Iraq, however, are far less than in other modern American wars. In Vietnam, the U.S. lost on average about 4,850 soldiers a year from 1963-75. In the Korean war, from 1950-53, the U.S. lost about 12,300 soldiers a year.

But a hallmark of the Iraq war is the high wounded-to-killed ratio, partly because of advances in battlefield medicine, enhanced protective gear worn by soldiers and reinforced armored vehicles. There have been about 15 soldiers wounded for every fatality in Iraq, compared with 2.6 per death in Vietnam and 2.8 in Korea.

The deadliest month for American troops was November 2004, with 137 deaths
. April 2004 was the next with 135 U.S. military deaths. May 2007 saw the third-highest toll. Last December was the lowest monthly death toll, when 23 soldiers were killed — one less than February 2004.

Easter message from President Bush to the troops:

President Bush said, at Easter, Americans are thinking about U.S. troops on the front lines who will spend this holiday far from home. "I deeply appreciate the sacrifices that they and their families are making," he said. "America is blessed with the world's greatest military, made up of men and women who fulfill their responsibilities with dignity, humility, and honor."

In his weekly radio address, President Bush said Americans remember those who have given their lives. "These brave individuals have lived out the words of the Gospel: 'Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' And our nation's fallen heroes live on in the memory of the nation they helped defend," he added.

The war in Iraq entered its sixth year this past week. Nearly 4,000 American troops have been killed. The latest public opinion poll by CBS News says nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of how President Bush is handling the war. Mr. Bush said earlier this week the conflict is noble and just and the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.

Anthony H. Cordesman via ABC News:

The 4,000-dead mark will symbolize the real cost of the U.S. participation in the war in Iraq, and the courage and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. It will also inevitably trigger another wave of polarized debate. Those who oppose the war will see the 4,000 dead as further reason to end it. Those who support the war will point to military progress and say that future casualties will be much lower.

There is likely to be something of a saturation effect in this debate. There already are a host of Iraq-related issues to deal with. We will reach the 4,000 mark at a time when the fifth anniversary has already triggered a new wave of debate on its own, and Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker's testimony before Congress on Iraq progress will come in early April. It will interact with the $3 trillion war cost debate, the bitter exchanges between Democratic Party candidates, Iraqi debates over political accommodation, and al Qaeda's ongoing suicide attacks and atrocities.

This makes it likely that the level of debate over just how much a round number of killed matters may be less intense than it might be otherwise. No one will be able to avoid mentioning the number, but it will be one statistic among many.

New York Newsday editorial:

The lessons of Iraq are clear. The numbers are simple. The solution and the outlook, sadly, are neither. And, unless voters and presidential candidates focus a lot more attention on this issue than they have in recent weeks, clarity will continue to elude us. The woes of the economy, the tactics of the presidential horse race, and the sexual behavior of two New York governors are just a few of the stories that have helped push Iraq off the front page.

Right now, there's a brief surge - to use an overworked word - of attention on Iraq: Last week saw the fifth anniversary of the invasion on March 19, 2003. But we must pay continued attention to Iraq - and to the deteriorating situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, from which Iraq has too long distracted us. If we don't, we'll squander a precious chance to use the searing heat of a presidential election cycle to generate the light we need to see Iraq more clearly.

But before we discuss what's next, we should reflect on what has gone before.
Let's start with 4,000 - the impending landmark of young Americans killed. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died. Estimates vary, but each civilian death, tragic in itself, carries the seeds of possible future violence by bereaved family members.

30,000. Nearly that many service members have been wounded. Medical science has saved their lives, but they and their families face decades of coping with crushing physical disabilities. And thousands will suffer for years from the crippling psychological disability of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Five years. This war has now lasted longer than the Civil War, longer than World War I, longer than World War II. 100. That's the number of years that Sen. John McCain once said he wouldn't mind seeing America spend in Iraq. 4.5 million Iraqis have been driven from their homes - roughly half are displaced inside the country and half are refugees in other nations.

$3 trillion. That's one estimate of the war's price tag, including caring for veterans and other costs. So say Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes in their new book, "The Three Trillion Dollar War." Compare that with $50 to $60 billion - the original Bush administration forecast of the war's cost.

Another editorial in today's Hartford Courant:

No weapons of mass destruction to be found in Iraq. No operational link between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein's regime. One by one, many of the pillars of President Bush's reasoning for invading Iraq have fallen, along with Americans' support for the war. But, as Vice President Dick Cheney would say: So? Mr. Cheney, his boss and other supporters of this misbegotten conflict aren't about to be "blown off course" by the facts.

As the Iraq war marks its fifth anniversary, they are as stubbornly insistent as ever that the war is a righteous cause and, as Mr. Bush said last week, has made the world better and the United States safer. The world arguably is a better place because a cruel dictator was toppled, captured and hanged. But most Americans understandably think the price is too dear.

Earlier this week, the Arizona Republic editorial board wrote:

Five years after the March 19, 2003, invasion of Iraq, recalling the "shock and awe" of that fateful night seems something far and distant. Of another time. And that it was. As New York Times reporter John F. Burns stood with other Western reporters on the roof of their Baghdad hotel, he watched the violent, cataclysmic end to the rule of a terrible totalitarian, Saddam Hussein. The explosions, the power of the attack that night, were "more like an act of God than man."

"But the larger part, the one that seems surreal now in the light of all that has followed, was the sense that, with the beginning of the end of Saddam Hussein's evil, the suffering of millions of ordinary Iraqis that we had chronicled and pitied was ending."

Such was the view on the far side of March 19, 2003. Something evil had ended. But at the same time, something wrenching and difficult - something almost catastrophic, for a time - had begun. The coalition forces unleashed by President Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had extricated Iraq from Saddam. But in the same sweeping onslaught, we entrenched ourselves in a long and bloody aftermath that, for several difficult years, threatened to engulf not just Iraq but the U.S., as well.

Without dispute, the Iraq war has changed this nation. In some ways, yes, for the worse. Bush, who campaigned in 2000 as a domestic-oriented, anti-interventionist, stood almost alone for a time in pressing the war forward. Our home-front battles over Iraq have been epochal. And they continue.

But whatever the ultimate outcome of the conflict, one important observation must be noted at this five-year juncture: With but a few (pathetic) exceptions, Americans have stood with their soldiers this time. And those soldiers have served us with valor beyond measure. Tough as the Iraq war has been, pride in the accomplishment of our soldiers has been the least of our worries there. Weary as we may be of war, the nation remains in awe of them.

Indeed.


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