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U.S. death toll in Iraq nears 2,000

WASHINGTON—The U.S. military announced Friday the deaths of four Marines and one soldier, bringing the number of American servicemen and women who've died in Iraq since the war began two and a half years ago to 1,993.

Three of the Marines were killed Thursday by a roadside bomb west of Baghdad and the fourth died Wednesday in a car-bomb attack in Karbala. The soldier died of wounds sustained during a mortar attack Thursday on a base in Hit, northwest of the Iraqi capital.

With deaths coming at an average of more than two per day, it appears likely that the number of dead will reach 2,000 in a matter of days.

There's nothing inherently special about that number, but it provides a marker of sorts for the American effort to transform Iraq from dictatorship to democracy, and it's a sobering reminder of the human cost of the U.S. presence in that country, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has suggested could last another 10 years.

The number of troops wounded in Iraq stands at 15,220, according to the Pentagon. Of those, 7,159 were so seriously hurt that they haven't returned to duty.

As the Bush administration vows to stay the course in Iraq, a poll earlier this month by the Pew Research Center found that 50 percent of American adults now think that invading Iraq was the wrong decision and 48 percent think that the United States should bring the troops home as soon as possible.

While few lawmakers, either Republican or Democratic, are calling for an outright withdrawal from Iraq, pressure is mounting for the Bush administration to cajole the Iraqis to reach a political settlement that will end the insurgency and come up with an exit strategy.

"There are many reasons to find a way out of Iraq sooner rather than later," Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said during a speech Friday to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "First and foremost are the continuing casualties and the loss of brave servicemen and women who carry out their duties so professionally."

Who are these Americans who've made the ultimate sacrifice? A typical Pentagon casualty report reads like the following:

"Spc. Lucas A. Frantz, 22, of Tonganoxie, Kan., died in Mosul, Iraq, on Oct. 18, when he was hit by enemy fire while performing a combat mission. Frantz was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Fort Wainwright, Alaska."

According to statistics drawn from Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that compiles data on U.S. and allied casualties from Pentagon press releases and news reports:

_Combat had claimed the lives of 1,555 Americans as of Friday. Accidents, illnesses and other non-combat causes have killed 438. Only 139 of all the deaths occurred before President Bush's May 1, 2003, declaration that the combat phase of the war was over.

_Nearly 49 percent were soldiers; nearly 25 percent were Marines; more than 15 percent were members of the Army National Guard.

_More than 97 percent were male, though 46 women, or 2.33 percent, have been killed.

_More than 73 percent were white; 11 percent were Latino; 10.7 percent were African-American.

_More than half came from 10 states: California (10.6 percent), Texas (8.9 percent), Pennsylvania (5.2 percent), New York (4.7 percent), Ohio (4.6 percent), Florida (4.2 percent), Illinois (4 percent), Georgia (3 percent), Michigan (3 percent) and Virginia (2.7 percent).

_At least 80 percent held the rank of staff sergeant or below. The biggest percentage of those, 28 percent, were either specialists or corporals. Among officers, captains have been killed more than anyone else. At least 65 have died. At least six lieutenant colonels have been killed by hostile fire.

_Because of the heavy presence of National Guard troops in Iraq, the dead tended to be older. Only 18 percent were ages 18 to 20. Nearly 60 percent were ages 21 to 30, with 17.3 percent ages 31 to 40. Nearly 5 percent were ages 41 to 50, and at least six were older than 50.

_The oldest soldier killed in combat was a 54-year-old Tennessee National Guardsmen, shot by a sniper in the town of Mahmudiyah on July 9, 2003. A 60-year-old civilian woman, working as a finance officer for the Army, was killed during a mortar attack on the U.S. Embassy in August.

_Roadside bombs, which the military calls "improvised explosive devices," account for nearly 28 percent of the deaths, more than any other cause. Firefights account for another 24 percent. Forty soldiers were killed by IEDs in August, the most for any month; 35 have been killed by IEDs so far in October.

_Nearly 23 percent of all American deaths have occurred in Anbar province, the heart of the so-called Sunni Muslim triangle, west of Baghdad. Another 22 percent have occurred in Baghdad. Mosul, a mixed-ethnicity city in northern Iraq, accounts for 5 percent of U.S. deaths.

_The highest death toll for U.S. troops was in November 2004, during the second offensive on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, when 137 Marines and soldiers were killed; 135 were killed in April 2004, when American troops first battled insurgents in Fallujah and faced a simultaneous uprising by Shiite Muslim militants in southern Iraq under Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical cleric.

U.S. casualty rates in Iraq have averaged 2.2 killed per day over the course of the war, according to a study released Friday by Anthony Cordesman, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, a national-security research center.

But according to Cordesman, the news media focusing solely on the rising death toll without including the wounded "grossly understates the sacrifice and cost of war in an era of advanced medical services and weapons" and often disguises the intensity of combat that American soldiers face.

"Frankly, anybody who watches the pattern of combat and looks at the suffering it inflicts has got to look at the wounded figures and realize they are far more serious in terms of the numbers affected than the numbers killed," he said.

Complete information on the kinds of wounds sustained wasn't available. According to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center amputation database, 404 servicemen and women had had limbs amputated because of wounds as of June 30, the most current date for which information was available. At least 44 of those had lost multiple limbs, according to the Army Medical Command.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.