2,000: the proverbial tip of the iceberg

The number of US service members killed in Iraq reached 2,000 Oct. 25, making headlines around the world (e.g. CBS News). More than 90% of this death toll occurred after President Bush declared the end of “major combat operations” in May 2003. But the figure actually masks a far more grim reality. Not included are the deaths of contract personnel who play an ever-larger role in the war. US media also made little mention of the number of US troops wounded—which is upwards of 15,000, with generally more serious wounds than in previous recent conflicts. For instance, limbs are being amputated at twice the rate of other modern military engagements. These salient facts were noted in an Oct. 26 report by the ABC—not the American Broadcasting Co., but the Australian Broadcasting Co. WW4 REPORT also noted earlier this year that the media habit of counting only US military dead, rather than the total number of coalition forces dead, is a dangerous obfuscation:

On May 27, New York’s Spanish-language daily El Diario/La Prensa noted a study by Puerto Rico’s government finding that “US government reports on soldiers under U.S. command killed in Iraq are so fragmented that they account for less than half of the total number.” This analysis was confirmed by El Diario/La Prensa’s review of multiple documents, including official releases by the Department of Defense, the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior and more than 230 battlefront reports, which reveal that over 4,076 troops under US command had been killed in 799 days of battle. The official toll reported in the US papers—counting only US troops, as opposed to all troops under US command—was 1,649…

Military affairs expert José Rodríguez Beruff from the University of Puerto Rico told El Diario that the figures showing more than 4,000 dead indicate that, far from winning the war in Iraq, “what is happening is that the troops are being worn down.” He said that traditional theorists calculate that for an occupation force to win a guerrilla war, its casualties should be one to ten of its enemy’s. In this case, that would require 40,000 casualties among the insurgents.

There is still more confusion when it comes to the wounded, which US authorities put at 12,600 and counting. But El Diario cited the German Press Agency (DPA), which ran a story reporting on US Army documents putting the number of US soldiers with war-related mental ailments at 100,000.

The figures came to light in the course of an ongoing investigation by El Diario/La Prensa into the number of Puerto Rican and Latino casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. That inquiry prompted Rep. José Serrano (D-NY) and Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, then resident commissioner of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, to request a full casualty report, which yielded a partial list of 200 Puerto Rican losses, including battlefield deaths, wounded and medical discharges. After his election as Puerto Rico’s governor, Acevedo Vilá renewed his request to the Defense Department for a total and specific accounting, but has yet to receive an answer.

According to documents reviewed by El Diario, in addition to the 1,649 fatalities among US uniformed troops, there were 88 from the UK, 92 from other coalition member countries, 238 reported by private contractors, and at least 2,000 from members of the Iraqi army. The biggest gap in the published counts is that of Iraqi troops under command of the occupying forces. (El Diario/La Prensa, May 27, via NY Independent Press Association)

The Iraq Coalition Casualty website puts the number of Iraqi security forces dead since the start of the conflict at over 5,900, based on rigorous monitoring of media reports. The site also reports that 97 British troops have been lost, and 102 from other foreign coalition forces as of Oct. 26, which, added to the US figure, brings a total of just shy of 2,200. Added to the Iraqi forces, this brings a total of 8,100. And this still does not count contract personnel.

Some media (e.g. this AP report in the Seattle Times) also took note today of the increasingly-accepted figure of more than 30,000 Iraqi civilian deaths.

See our last post on Iraq.

  1. Protests in New York City
    Hundreds of protesters jammed the Times Square traffic island that houses New York’s most prominent recruiting station as news of the 2,000th death broke Oct. 26. See Sarah Ferguson’s account in the Village Voice.