09 September 2004
More than 1,000 American troops have now died in Iraq since the US launched its campaign to remove Saddam Hussein 18 months ago. With fierce fighting again raging in Baghdad and Fallujah, it was inevitable that the grim tally would be obsolete even as Pentagon spokesmen confirmed the official toll. In the past four days alone, 17 US troops have been killed in attacks.
As Americans mourn their dead, the scale of the losses is, rightly, being exploited by the Democratic presidential challenger, John Kerry, and other critics of the war to attack President Bush's handling of the occupation and his claim that Iraq is now a safer place. More than 850 of the American deaths occurred after 1 May 2003 when Mr Bush announced an end to major combat operations.
It is striking and shameful, however, that similar official attention has not been directed at recording the deaths of Iraqi civilians over the past 18 months. Private monitoring groups, basing their estimates on media reports, suggest a figure of 10,000. This may or may not be exaggerated: there is simply no public account of the fate of many of the ordinary civilians in whose name this war was fought.
But if it is impossible to count the true extent of the casualties of this war, then it is easier to predict that death and injury will continue to stalk Iraq. US forces are fighting two wars now; one against the Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr's Mehdi army, the other against highly organised Sunni Muslim guerrillas. Both the interim prime minister Iyad Allawi and his US backers seem determined to eliminate Sadr's militia. That means that we may be about to witness violence in Sadr City, the Shia district of Baghdad, as bloody as anything seen during the three-week battle for the holy city of Najaf. Meanwhile, hostage taking, suicide bombing and random attacks continue to rob daily life of the security Iraqis crave and threaten democratic elections, the only hope for a stable future.
The calm many hoped would follow the transfer of sovereignty on 30 June has not materialised and the omens are not good. The mourning of the dead seems fated to continue both in America and Iraq for some time to come.