Iraq's Dual Milestones

Successful ratification of charter comes as pace of American fatalities accelerates

2,000th death spotlights insurgents' persistence, lethal roadside bombs

U.s. Military

October 26, 2005|By RICHARD BOUDREAUX, LOUISE ROUG, DOUG SMITH AND P.J. HUFFSTUTTER | RICHARD BOUDREAUX, LOUISE ROUG, DOUG SMITH AND P.J. HUFFSTUTTER,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Fatalities among Americans serving in the Iraq war have reached 2,000, the U.S. military reported yesterday as it announced the death of a soldier who had been wounded days ago by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad.

Staff Sgt. George T. Alexander Jr., 34, of Killeen, Texas, was injured Oct. 17 when a bomb planted by insurgents exploded near his Bradley Fighting Vehicle in the town of Samarra, the Pentagon said. He died Saturday at Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio.

His death reflected two threats to the 140,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq - the growing number of fatalities caused by hidden bombs and the capacity of insurgents to re-enter areas swept by U.S. offensives. Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, had been targeted by two such offensives in the past 15 months.

Alexander's death was the 2,000th fatality in an Associated Press tally begun when U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq in March 2003 to topple President Saddam Hussein.

More than 20,000 Iraqis have been killed since the war began, and more than 15,000 U.S. soldiers have been wounded.

U.S. officials repeatedly have claimed progress during 31 months of war in Iraq, but the steady rise in American deaths over the past 18 months has become one of the most striking features of the fighting.

An analysis that compared the first 1,000 deaths - from the beginning of the war in March 2003 through early September of last year - with the fatalities since showed a sharp increase in the number of deaths attributed to roadside bombs, which have overtaken rockets, mortars and gunfire as the greatest threat to U.S. troops and were responsible for more than half of the combat deaths in the past year.

The analysis by the Los Angeles Times also showed how the death rate has accelerated since the early days of the U.S. occupation. For the first year after the capture of Baghdad, the deaths of U.S. soldiers accumulated slowly - roughly one a day.

Then, on March 31, 2004, shortly after the anniversary of the launching of the war, four American contractors were slaughtered in the Sunni-dominated city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

In the United States, the picture of the contractors' charred bodies hanging from a bridge signaled to the public that the insurgency had intensified. In Iraq, the death rate for U.S. troops rose rapidly from that point, roughly doubling.

Since then, the military has added armor to its trucks and has assaulted insurgent strongholds in Fallujah, Ramadi and the deserts of western Al Anbar province. U.S. trainers have worked to toughen Iraqi combat units, saying they hoped to get U.S. troops off Iraq's streets and rely more on Iraqis for security.

American leaders transferred sovereignty back to Iraq and pushed for elections and the drafting of a constitution, which was approved earlier this month by Iraqi voters. Saddam Hussein has gone on trial.

None of that appears to have affected the U.S. death rate substantially. Despite blips up and down, the overall trend since the Fallujah incident - an average of roughly 17 deaths a week - has continued unabated.

One hundred-nineteen American troops died in the initial three-week campaign to capture Iraq. One thousand eight hundred eighty-one more U.S. Defense Department personnel, including five civilian Pentagon employees, have died trying to hold it. Roughly 15,000 American troops have been wounded, with about half hurt too severely to return to duty.

The soldiers, Marines and sailors who died came from every state - more than 1,400 cities and towns, large and small, across the country.

About 200 soldiers from countries allied with the United States also have died, just less than half of them British.

Thousands of Iraqis on both sides have been killed as well, with the best "guesstimate" of civilian fatalities being between 26,000 and 30,000, according to Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

At the Pentagon, officials used to talk hopefully about how improving the armor on military vehicles would solve the problem of roadside bombs. Instead, insurgents have improved their explosives - U.S. officials have suggested some sophisticated bombs are being imported from Iran - and the hope that armor would counter them largely has dissipated.

A typical military mortality is an Army enlisted man (98 percent of the dead have been male), in his 20s (the average age was 26) and white (Pentagon figures show whites, blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans dying in numbers roughly proportionate to their share of the U.S. population).

Often, the reservists killed were conducting combat support operations, which have been increasingly deadly as insurgents have learned to target U.S. supply convoys.

The 200th death came amid growing antiwar sentiment in the United States, and activists planned a series of demonstrations.

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