Thursday, September 02, 2004


By William Fisher

It appears that as US casualties in Iraq edge ever-closer to 1,000, reports of the numbers of KIAs move further and further away from the front pages of American newspapers and the top of the TV evening news.

These days, with a few exceptions, US military casualties in Iraq are being reported as parts of other stories – for example, the battle for Najaf – or buried deep inside the paper or not reported at all. And information about Iraqi casualties is even harder to find, since the Pentagon does not track this figure.

Is this some vast journalistic or bureaucratic conspiracy to make President Bush look better? I don’t think so. I think what’s happening may be even worse. The US media – especially television -- always finds it difficult to cover more than one big story at the same time. Added to this multitasking challenge is the sense that the American public is just plain tired of reading and hearing these awful numbers. And who can blame them?

There will no doubt be a huge burst of ink and air when the KIA number reaches the ‘magic’ 1,000. After that, I suspect the issue will go back into hibernation as the political campaign gets even hotter – or some other high profile rape case eats up all the media time and space.

So, just for the record, here are the numbers:

As of September 1, 978 US military have been killed since the war began, on March 19, 2003, Since the President declared "Mission Accomplished", on May 1, 2003, 839 American troops have lost their lives. KIAs since the capture of Saddam Hussein on December 13, 2003, total 518. And 121 have been killed since the ‘handover of sovereignty’ on June 29, 2004.

There were an additional 127 deaths among non-US coalition forces, and 132 American fatalities in Afghanistan. Another 6,916 US fighters have been injured.

According to Patrick McDonnell of the Washington Post, “Although attention in recent weeks has focused on Najaf, where US forces battled Shiite Muslim militiamen, most of the deadly confrontations for American troops in newly independent Iraq have occurred in the Baghdad area and the so-called Sunni Triangle to the north and west. The concentration of attacks in those areas is a reminder that the fiercest and most organized opposition to US forces and the US-backed interim government continues to be in Sunni-dominated cities, such as Fallouja. Nationwide, US forces are being attacked 60 times per day on average, up 20% from the three-month period before the hand-over.”

President Bush now admits to a “miscalculation” in what he describes as a “catastrophic success”, and John Kerry tells us he would have voted to go to war even if he knew then what he knows now.

And neither of these gladiators appears to have a clue about how to get us out of what can no longer be denied is a major quagmire.

Earlier in our Iraqi adventure, many pundits pooh-poohed the notion that it could be compared to Vietnam. Our Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, assured us that all would be well, and that ”democracy is messy”. Unfortunately, it has turned out to be a lot messier than Rummy imagined or that the Pentagon planned for – if it planned at all.

What we are learning from Iraq – and what we should have learned from Vietnam – is that policies have consequences. And that the doctrine of preemption has deadly consequences.

We need to remember that. And, even more importantly, we need to remember that ‘the numbers’ we’re no longer seeing aren’t just numbers – they’re people. Young people who won’t ever get older.

Think about it.