How Many Deaths Are Too Many?

Milestone‘ was a frequently used word last week. (So was ‘anniversary‘. Though let’s not go there. At least not for now. Some other time. Perhaps.)

Pick your favorite purple modifier (‘grim’ and ‘tragic’ were often in use), or your favorite slice of Pentagonese (“four-digit,” in the American Secretary of Defense’s words), or your favorite stab at the stars (‘psychologically important’ also was in use), the event was not as if no one had seen it coming. In fact, Associated Press had long been waiting for the day to arrive. And waiting. And waiting. An “American mosaic,” was how the AP writers eventually described it, suppressing the obvious—that this “all-volunteer” force does not reflect a random sample of the U.S. population, but, rather, is skewed downwards in a manner not unlike its prison population. Which is precisely why it will remain “all-volunteer.” And nothing like a mosaic. (For a copy, see below.)

A Q&A with the media front man at the White House, Scott McClellan, held at the Boone County Fairgrounds in Columbia, Missouri, went like this (“Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan,” Sept. 7):

QUESTION: Senator Kerry is calling it a tragic milestone, reaching 1,000 deaths in Iraq.

ANSWER: Well, we remember, honor and mourn the loss of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending freedom. And we also remember those who lost their lives on September 11th. The best way to honor all those who have lost their life in the war on terrorism is to continue to wage a broad war and spread freedom throughout a dangerous part of the world so that we can transform that region of the world and make the world a safer place, and make America more secure.

(Quick aside: The important—though still small and largely ignored—group Military Families Speak Out (all of whom have lost, or currently have, members of their families serving in this criminal war) seized the inevitable coming of this day in early September to issue a statement from their base in Washington, D.C., deploring the U.S. troops “killed in a war that should not have happened.” Their statement continued: “The two primary justifications used by the Bush Administration to take this nation into war—weapons of mass destruction and a link between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein have proven to be false. Each day, week and month that this reckless military misadventure continues, the death toll goes higher.” Total number of mentions of this antiwar group’s statement in the major American print dailies: One, a mention in the Los Angeles Times the next day (John Balzar, Sept. 8). They did just as well in the New Zealand media (“A thousand lives, a thousand stories,” Dominion Post, Sept. 9). (“Honor the Fallen by Ending the Occupation and Bringing the Troops Home NOW—No More Deaths in a War Based on Lies!,” Sept. 7.))

During a discussion of the American death toll on the PBS News Hour the next evening (“Struggle for Stability,” Transcript 8050, Sept. 8), the retired American Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor tried to place the 1,000-mark in its proper context (in every sense imaginable, it would appear):

This insurgency is going on, it’s growing, it certainly has no indications of being an act of desperation at all. And the 1,000-casualty mark, you know, it’s a milestone. It has a psychological effect, and obviously is going to have some partisan political interest. But of itself, you know, it’s somewhat irrelevant.

You know, you don’t want to see anybody on our side killed to begin with. But, you know, compared to previous wars, compared to Vietnam, Korea and certainly World War II, the casualties—as horrendous and hideous as they are—are, relatively speaking, low. But still, the figure 1,000, that’s shocking.

But it’s well to remember what Stalin once said: “One death is a tragedy. A thousand deaths is statistic.” There’s a certain element of that. I think the American people are starting to become hardened to the reality of this war.

Later, in a terror-filled speech at week’s end before the National Press Club in Washington (the title of which was the “Global War on Terror,” please note well), the American Secretary of Defense provided some additional context (“Secretary Rumsfeld’s Speech at the National Press Club,” Sept. 10—this performance was carried live in the States by the C-SPAN cable television channel as well as National Public Radio):

The assassins and the terrorists we are fighting know that the rise of a free, self-governing Afghanistan and a free, self-governing Iraq will give powerful momentum to reformers throughout the region, and it will discredit their extremist ideology.

Free people battled their kind before in struggles against dictators, fascists, communists over the last century. Freedom has always required sacrifice. And regrettably, it has always cost lives.

The attack on Pearl Harbor, alone, claimed the lives of some 2,400 Americans on one day. Roughly 400,000 more American troops would be killed before they overcame repeated defeats in those early years of World War II and demoralizing setbacks to eventually achieve victory years later.

I mention this because we’ve now lost over 1,100 Americans in the global war on terror, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, elsewhere on the globe.

The reality is that as advanced as our capabilities are, the truth is that war is ugly and it takes lives. It’s important to keep in mind that the civilized world passed the 1,000th casualty mark at the hands of extremists long ago; I mean 3,000 on September 11th alone in a series of attacks that included the bombing of our embassies and military barracks.

It was the murder of so many and the destruction of so much in one morning on our soil three years ago that brought home what we’re up against in this ongoing struggle.

As long as we continue our mission, as long as we work to change the terrorists’ way of life before they succeed in changing our way of life, as long as we avoid a return to the false comfort of September 10, 2001, victory will come, just as it has in conflicts in the past.

Presumably, adding glosses on these glosses on the extreme forms of state-violence in which the Americans are engaged at present is unnecessary. This Global War on Terror is every budding militarist’s dream. From weapons in outer space, to invading Afghanistan and Iraq, to threatening sanctions or worse against Syria and Iran, to maintaining the grotesque spending priorities of the U.S. Government, to the Department of Homeland Security, the USA Patriot Act, and high-tech surveillance systems over our urban centers (see Paul Street, “Oh For ‘That Extra Set of Eyes’: Big Brother Is Smiling in Chicago,” Sept. 10), it appears that the Global War on Terror is about as protean a system of propaganda as they come.

Not so the next one.—

Looking back over the events of the previous week, Sunday’s New York Times noted the relatively quiet passing of the “1,000-death benchmark” in the fall of 1965, at a time when the “escalation in the number of American forces was just underway, the antiwar movement was still in its infancy and the word ‘quagmire’ was not yet in common usage.”

Reporter James Dao continued (“How Many Deaths Are Too Many?” Sept. 12):

Four decades later, the passing of the 1,000-death benchmark in another war against insurgents has been accompanied by considerably more public unease. Polls registered a steady increase in the number of Americans who believe the war in Iraq was not worth it, peaking at over 50 percent in June. Americans, it seems, are more skeptical about this conflict than about Vietnam at roughly the same moment, as measured in body counts.

How many casualties will Americans tolerate? Will continual insurgencies, like the uprisings in Falluja and Najaf, break down Americans’ already tepid support for the war?

These Americans. For Christ’s sake. They never learn any thing. Do they? And of all weeks to display such utter and abject ignorance towards the larger world in which they live and play such a dominant role!

When Dao asks—“How many casualties will Americans tolerate?”—he’s not asking about the number of casualties suffered by the people the Americans are killing and maiming in Iraq and elsewhere. He’s only asking about his fellow Americans. His introductory comparison with the savage American war over Vietnam suffers from the same limitation—all of Dao’s nonsense about benchmarks and quagmires and mistakes and insurgencies aside. By the fall of 1965, the Americans crossed the 1,000-deaths threshold, as Dao avers. But what about the people the Americans were killing throughout Vietnam, the Americans having extended their war from the South to the North early that same year, after ten years of concentration on the South? By the fall of 1965, which benchmark had the Americans’ war passed—the antiwar movement in the States still in its infancy, and the word ‘quagmire’ not yet in common usage, despite the numbers of Vietnamese killed somewhere well over…….what? Over 100,000? 200,000? How can an American living in 2004 even ask a question like Dao’s (which generalizes pretty much to the rest of Dao’s colleagues, just as well as it does to Messrs. Rumsfeld, McClellan, and Trainor)?

Here are two questions. You tell me which one an American living in September, 2004, ought to be asking:

How many American deaths are too many?
How many Iraqi deaths are too many?

Or, to phrase it another way:

How many American casualties will the Americans tolerate?
How many Iraqi casualties will the Americans tolerate?

Will the Americans tolerate one Iraqi death for every single American death? Ten Iraqi deaths? One-hundred? Indeed. Something in-between? Something higher?

So: How many deaths are too many? Besides, whose deaths are we talking about here? Mine? Yours? Or the man from Conyers, Georgia—whose “neatly pressed uniform is [still] spread out on his bed, his framed citizenship papers [still] on the wall”? (And whom none of us had ever heard of before, anyway.)

Afghans? Iraqis?

To date (the morning of Sept. 13, 2004), can anybody even tell me how many Iraqis have died as a result of this latest American war? How many Afghans? How many wounded?

Yes. I know that neither the old Coalition Provisional Authority nor the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad keep an official count of Iraqi casualties. Nor does U.S. Central Command. Nor for that matter their superiors back in Washington.

And, yes, I know about the very important labors of the Iraq Body Count Project to “establish an independent and comprehensive public database of media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq resulting directly from military action by the USA and its allies” (“Overview“). (By the way, that’s one hell of a list of “public domain newsgathering agencies” that meet “acceptable project standards” they’ve got going there ( “Sources“).)

But, I have two basic problems with this approach—as solid as it is in itself, and given its self-defined parameters. One: A major problem throughout the coverage of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has been lack of media access to virtually the whole of the country, aside from Baghdad, and large parts of the Iraqi capital are off-limits, too. This is not just a question of media sources being controlled by the occupying forces. It’s an question of safety and fear, too. Of violence occurring in many theaters simultaneously. And of the American forces possessing truly commanding heights of firepower compared to the resistance. No matter how many public domain newsgathering agencies one includes in one’s universe of acceptable sources for news about Iraqi civilian death, it’s just not going to be sufficient. Moreover, according to its working parameters, the Iraq Body Count Project is interested in documenting “civilian deaths in Iraq resulting directly from military action by the USA and its allies.” But these civilian deaths are deaths occurring in the occupation phase of a war of aggression. Why exclude from the body count the deaths of armed Iraqis who have been killed resisting the occupation? Thus, when I took a look at the Iraq Body Count Project’s website at 6:00 AM this morning, Monday, September 13, the Project’s Reported Minimum civilian death toll in Iraq stood at 11,797, and its Reported Maximum at 13,806. Of course, I don’t have better numbers at my fingertips. But these estimates can’t be accurate. Can they? Surely the Iraq Body Count Project is undercounting Iraqi civilian deaths. Let alone not even trying to count all Iraqi deaths to have resulted from the American invasion and occupation—civilian or otherwise.

Last point.—The very same day that the New York Times‘s James Dao wondered whether 1,000 American deaths were too many for the Americans to stomach, an article in the Chicago Tribune mentioned in passing that “Now, two weeks after the violent standoff, Najaf Gov. Adnan Zurfi said Saturday that he put the death toll for insurgents and civilians ‘at over 1,000 killed’, based on hospital data and other measures he did not name.” (Evan Osnos and Rick Jervis, “Najaf governor: U.S.-Sadr fight left 1,000 dead,” Sept. 12.)

Well. I for one have no idea about the accuracy of this estimate of “over 1,000 killed”, either. But you’ll notice that the estimate referred to Najaf alone. And that it was publicized by the man serving as the Governor of Najaf under the American occupation.

Last, you’ll notice that the estimate included “insurgents and civilians.”

Not just the one. Or just the other.

Probation and Parole in the United States, 2003,” Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, July, 2004

Iraq Coalition Casualties

Military Families Speak Out
Honor the Fallen by Ending the Occupation and Bringing the Troops Home NOW—No More Deaths in a War Based on Lies!” (Press Release, Military Families Speak Out, September 7)

Iraq Body Count Project

Torture and the Americans, ZNet Blogs (the old ones), June 18
Iraq, Civilian Fatalities, and American Power, ZNet Blogs, August 15

FYA (“For your archives”): Am depositing here copies of both the AP report, as well as James Dao’s piece in Sunday’s New York Times and the Chicago Tribune‘s report that mentions one estimate of the Iraqi death toll from the American siege of Najaf in August. In between these three articles, there were literally hundreds, if not thousands, of others crossing the same terrain.

The Associated Press
September 7, 2004, Tuesday, BC cycle
HEADLINE: Toll in Iraq war a grim milestone

Their faces, smiling or solemn, are all too familiar in our newspapers and on television. Their names sound a somber roll call – Smith, Falaniko, Ramos, Lee – a roster that seems to grow daily.

U.S. military deaths in the Iraq campaign passed 1,000 on Tuesday.

The troops lost are sons and daughters from city streets and rural hamlets. They are teens who went from senior proms to boot camp and battle, and middle-aged family men who put aside retirement and grandchildren for the dangers of a war zone.

What they share is they will not see home again.

What does the number mean? On D-Day alone, more Americans lost their lives. At the peak of Vietnam, hundreds of U.S. troops were dying each week. And in just one September morning three years ago, 2,792 people perished when two towers crumbled to the streets of New York.

Still, 1,000 is a grim milestone.

The conflict in Iraq has claimed almost three times the number of Americans lost in the entire Persian Gulf War. And this time, the vast majority of U.S. deaths – all but 138 – came after major combat operations were declared over. “Mission Accomplished,” read a banner on the aircraft carrier where President Bush spoke on May 1, 2003.

Sixteen months later, the fighting goes on. So do the funerals.

The lengthening casualty roster reflects a front line that shifted from sandy deserts to shadowy streets, a stubborn insurgency, a conflict far bloodier than many expected.

Back home, there is another growing count: Towns that lost future firefighters and policemen, churches left without Sunday school teachers, families where infants will never meet their dads.

“It’s almost like losing a community,” says Luis Pizzini, an educator in San Diego, Texas. Two of his former students died in Iraq.

Ruben Valdez, 21, and Jose Amancio Perez, 22, grew up on the same block.

Now, the two young men lie buried a few feet apart.

The fallen are an American mosaic.

The youngest was just 18. The oldest, 59. More than half had not seen their 30th birthday, according to an Associated Press analysis of Department of Defense statistics for those who died since the war started on March 19, 2003.

The number of troops who have died reached 1,000 with the death of a soldier early Wednesday in Iraq; three civilians working for the Pentagon in Iraq were also killed. The tally was compiled by AP based on Pentagon records and AP reporting from Iraq.

Of those who have died, 97 percent were men; about two dozen were women. While more than 600 were white, others were black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian.

There were kids who had never fired a shot at an enemy, and veterans of Desert Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo – even Vietnam.

They hailed from the urban bustle of Chicago, New York and Houston, as well as the cornfields of Silvana, Wash., and the coal mine country of Varney, W.Va. – and from every state but Alaska.

They represented U.S. territories, and more than three dozen were born in foreign countries, including Thailand, India and Poland. While many had been naturalized, at least 10 died reaching for their vision of the American dream: to become U.S. citizens.

Army Pfc. Diego Rincon, a native of Colombia, was among them. After he was killed in a suicide bombing, his father, Jorge, lobbied Congress, which passed legislation giving posthumous citizenship to his 19-year-old son and other foreign-born soldiers killed in battle.

Jose Gutierrez grew up an orphan in Guatemala, crossed the border illegally, obtained a visa, graduated from high school, and eventually became a Marine. At age 28, the lance corporal was buried in his native land, an American flag covering his casket.

In a poem called “Letter to God,” Gutierrez once wrote: “Thank you for what I have … for my dreams that don’t die.”

(The Iraq war also has claimed the lives of more than 120 foreign troops who were part of the U.S.-led coalition; about half were in the British military. Some 135 Americans have died in anti-terror operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries.)

Although most – more than 700 – were in the Army, Americans who have died in the Iraq war wore the uniforms of every branch of service. Among them was the first Coast Guardsman to die in combat since Vietnam.

Some 80 percent were in the active-duty military, the remainder in Guard and Reserve units.

About 70 percent were killed in action, and there were more than 160 accidental deaths, many involving vehicles.

Yet numbers are only part of the story.

Those who died were as different as they were the same: There were homecoming kings and class presidents, Scout leaders and Little League coaches. A young man from the projects who put a hip-hop beat to “Amazing Grace” on the bus to church camp. A lawyer fascinated with tanks. An Army specialist nicknamed “Ketchup” who would sneak food to Iraqi children.

There was Trevor Spink, a 36-year-old staff sergeant in his third tour in Iraq. His steady, confident gaze was once the face on Marine recruitment posters. Now, his mother has decided, that portrait will adorn his tombstone.

There was Army pilot Aaron Weaver, 32, who had survived cancer and a rocket attack in the 1993 battle of Mogadishu, Somalia, recounted in “Black Hawk Down.” The Bronze Star recipient and father of a baby girl was so determined to go to Iraq, he secured special medical clearance so he could fly.

“Nobody wants to leave their buddies behind,” says his father, Mike Weaver. “Being an Army Ranger – it’s a close-knit family.”

So many were so very young, men and women just beginning lives filled with promise.

Marine Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin, 21, proposed to fiancee Tiffany Frank by telephone from Iraq. They set a wedding date, Dec. 11.

“We had the church reserved, the pastor reserved, the reception hall reserved,” Tiffany says. “Now I can only dream about what we would have had.”

Roger Rowe already had everything he wanted: A 34-year marriage to his childhood friend, four children and seven grandchildren who called him “Papa.” Still, at 54, the Vietnam veteran had no hesitation about serving in Iraq as part of the Tennessee National Guard.

“He said, ‘What a lifetime experience this will be to be able to help that country,”‘ remembers his widow, Shirley. “He was always an optimist.”

Others saw the military as a steppingstone: a way to save money for college, buy a first home, broaden horizons – or build a career.

James Adamouski, a 29-year-old Army captain, had already served in Bosnia and Kosovo and had many accomplishments: He was a West Point graduate and former semiprofessional soccer player in Germany. He also was about to start Harvard Business School, and had his eye on politics.

During a Memorial Day visit to the White House last year, his father, Frank Adamouski, spoke briefly with President Bush about what might have been. “I always knew I was going to have breakfast in the White House,” he recalls saying. “But I always thought my son was going to be president when I did.”

Army Pfc. Jesse Buryj had his own plans – to become a Canton, Ohio, police officer. He enlisted because he was too young to join the force.

The 21-year-old newlywed died a hero, credited with saving fellow soldiers when he fired more than 400 rounds at a dump truck attempting to crash a checkpoint.

“I know he went out in a blaze of glory,” says his mother, Peggy. “They say he showed no fear and gave no ground.”

Others expressed bitterness over the loss of loved ones in a war they considered unjustified.

“It just rubbed salt in the wound to hear them talk about, well maybe they didn’t have all the information, maybe the intelligence was faulty,” says Oliva Smith, whose 41-year-old husband, Bruce, was killed when a missile downed his helicopter.

There is another void almost too great to fathom: More than 500 sons and daughters have been left without a father, and at least five boys and girls lost their mothers.

Some two dozen soldiers had wives who were pregnant, men like 23-year-old Micheal Dooley – who had picked a name, Shea, from afar for his first child. His widow, Christine, now takes Shea to the mausoleum where Dooley rests, presses her daughter’s hand to her own lips and then to the wall of the crypt, telling her: “That’s the way we kiss Daddy.”

These 1,000 men and women are home again, their war over.

The Rincon house in Conyers, Ga., is filled with memories of Diego: His neatly pressed uniform is spread out on his bed, his framed citizenship papers are on the wall.

Diego Rincon was cremated, but he has not been laid to rest. His family isn’t ready for the final goodbye.

“One day when I’m old,” his father says, “I’m going to bury him in Arlington. But not now. Not right now.”

The New York Times
September 12, 2004 Sunday
Late Edition – Final
SECTION: Section 4; Column 1; Week in Review Desk; The Nation: Body Count; Pg. 1
HEADLINE: How Many Deaths Are Too Many?
DATELINE: Washington

IN the fall of 1965, the death toll for American troops in Vietnam quietly passed 1,000. The escalation in the number of American forces was just underway, the antiwar movement was still in its infancy and the word ”quagmire” was not yet in common usage.

At the time, the Gallup Poll found that just one in four Americans thought sending troops to southeast Asia had been a mistake. It would be three years before public opinion turned decisively, and permanently, against the war.

Four decades later, the passing of the 1,000-death benchmark in another war against insurgents has been accompanied by considerably more public unease. Polls registered a steady increase in the number of Americans who believe the war in Iraq was not worth it, peaking at over 50 percent in June. Americans, it seems, are more skeptical about this conflict than about Vietnam at roughly the same moment, as measured in body counts.

How many casualties will Americans tolerate? Will continual insurgencies, like the uprisings in Falluja and Najaf, break down Americans’ already tepid support for the war?

For a variety of reasons, military experts and historians say that for now, support is likely to remain steady. The stark experience of Sept. 11 and the belief among many Americans that the fighting in Iraq is part of a global conflict against terrorism have made this war seem much more crucial to the nation’s security than Vietnam, they say.

”The Vietcong didn’t so much as toss a firecracker into the United States,” said Maurice Isserman, a history professor at Hamilton College and co-author of ”America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960’s.”

”There was fear of nuclear war and Communist subversion and espionage,” he said. ”But the reality is, no American died in the continental United States during the cold war. There was nothing comparable in the 1960’s to that image of the twin towers falling.”

Moreover, American patience with the war in Iraq is likely to endure significantly longer because there is no draft, historians say. As long as the military remains an all-volunteer force, they say, war and death could remain distant abstractions for most Americans.

”When people don’t face the decision of having to fight, it’s pretty hard to get mass support for an argument that we should get on boats and leave tomorrow,” said Melvin Small, a history professor at Wayne State University and author of ”Antiwarriors: The Vietnam War and the Battle for America’s Hearts and Minds.”

There are also broad differences in the scope of the two wars that could affect the tide of public opinion.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson began a huge escalation of the Vietnam War that eventually brought American troop levels to over half a million. By 1968, the weekly death toll was over 500.

No such escalation is envisioned in Iraq, where the deadliest month was last April, when 134 troops were killed. And though the 1,000-dead milestone was reached faster in Iraq, it seems unlikely the toll will keep pace with Vietnam, where it exploded after 1965, reaching over 58,000 by the war’s end.

But if Americans are likely to remain supportive of war for the near future, how long will their patience last? The same military experts and historians say the tipping point in Iraq could come well before it did in Vietnam, in part because of the memory of Vietnam itself.

”The crucial point comes when the country feels it is not going to achieve its goals,” said Robert Dallek, the presidential historian. ”People say it took years to build opposition to Vietnam. But the difference is that the war in Iraq stands in the shadow of Vietnam, and people remember Vietnam. And so there already begins to be widespread feeling that this is a quagmire.”

Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a nonprofit policy group, contends that maintaining public support for wars against shadowy insurgents is always difficult, because there are fewer clear benchmarks to show progress. Accomplishments like building an indigenous Iraqi army will mean little to Americans if their soldiers continue to die in guerilla attacks, he said.

EVEN if the American public remains patient with the rising body count, American soldiers and marines might not, Mr. Krepinevich argued. And if large numbers of troops decide not to re-enlist, or begin joining antiwar protests, it would be a powerful public relations blow to the war effort.

”At what point do these volunteers say: the risks are so high, the duty so onerous, and the lack of progress so morale-breaking, that I’m going to vote with my feet and leave when my commission is up?” asked Mr. Krepinevich, a former Army officer. ”In this race against time, I fear reality may be working against the United States.”

Paul Berman, a liberal writer who supports the war but opposes President Bush, argued that the administration and its Democratic critics have both done poor jobs of explaining the long-haul nature of the war and its importance to combating terrorism.

”The American people don’t understand what is at stake, what would be the consequences if there were an American failure in Iraq,” he said. ”If they go on not making the case, then they are running a terrible risk that people will not put up with the suffering.”

Of course, there has been significant public opposition to virtually every war America has waged, except World War II.

One-third of the nation did not back the American Revolution, historians say. Congress chastised President James Polk in 1848 for starting an ”unnecessary and unconstitutional” war with Mexico. New Yorkers rioted against the draft during the Civil War. The Socialist Eugene Debs went to prison, and ran for president while there, for opposing the draft in World War I. A plurality of Americans thought the Korean War was a mistake during much of that conflict.

But in virtually all those cases, dissent did relatively little to prevent bloodshed. Only in Vietnam, which caused the nation’s largest and most sustained protests, can it be argued that an antiwar movement hastened the end of a war.

With that in mind, both sides in the current debate seem to be trying to learn from the 1960’s. The government has sought to sustain public support for war by encouraging positive coverage of American soldiers while prohibiting photographs of returning caskets. And antiwar groups have treated returning soldiers with immense dignity — hoping to avoid the kinds of reports about abusive demonstrators that once embittered Vietnam veterans.

But one lesson neither side could have gleaned from Vietnam was the impact of 24-hour cable television and the Internet, which have brought death in Iraq closer to home than network television did in Vietnam. In the process, they have amplified the horrors of war and, perhaps, speeded up reaction to it, historians said.

”People talked about Vietnam as the television war,” Professor Small said. ”But it took 24 hours to get film on TV. The Pentagon released body counts on Fridays. Everything today is more immediate. So even though we’ve only passed the 1,000 mark, that mark is, to me, equivalent to 15,000 dead in Vietnam.”

Chicago Tribune
September 12, 2004
Najaf governor: U.S.-Sadr fight left 1,000 dead
Battle erupts in heart of Baghdad
By Evan Osnos and Rick Jervis, Tribune staff reporters. Osnos reported from Najaf; Jervis reported from Mosul. Tribune news services contributed to this report

NAJAF, Iraq — Three weeks of urban warfare killed at least 1,000 Iraqi rebels and civilians, the governor of this battle-weary city said Saturday in his first estimate of the death toll since the standoff ended two weeks ago.

In Baghdad, strong explosions shook the central district early Sunday, and fighting erupted on a major street in the heart of the city near the U.S.-guarded Green Zone.

Rocket and mortar barrages went on throughout the morning. Several rounds landed in the Green Zone, raising clouds of black smoke and triggering warning sirens. A military vehicle was seen burning in the middle of one street, where U.S. soldiers took up positions behind walls and trees.

In Najaf, during last month’s relentless close-quarters combat between U.S. troops and militants loyal to rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr, hospital officials and military officers had estimated that the death toll in this southern holy city had climbed far into the hundreds, though most conceded that any estimates could not be verified until fighting eased.

Now, two weeks after the violent standoff, Najaf Gov. Adnan Zurfi said Saturday that he put the death toll for insurgents and civilians “at over 1,000 killed,” based on hospital data and other measures he did not name.

That grim coda on the Najaf clashes came as the top U.S. commander in northwestern Iraq set a clock ticking on the newest front in the Iraqi insurgency, warning Saturday that insurgents who have infiltrated the northern city of Tal Afar will have a week to leave the city or face military reprisals.

Brig. Gen. Carter Ham said some 7,500 U.S. troops in the area are poised to reinstate local officials deposed by militias.

The remote cement-factory town of Tal Afar, 30 miles west of Mosul near the Syrian border, has been overrun by militias that have seized residents’ homes and battled U.S. troops over the past 10 days, U.S. military officials said. The fighting has killed 67 insurgents, they said.

U.S. troops have sealed roads to the city but are letting civilians leave, residents and commanders say. Some are bristling at the partial blockade, which they say has interfered with efforts to return bodies for burial in Tal Afar and limited the ability of Iraqi National Guard troops to enter the city, residents said by phone Saturday.

Ham said the fighting may intensify if the insurgents don’t leave the city.

“Instead of taking up the fight, they should turn themselves in or leave the city,” Ham said. “The ones who have stayed have made their decision. [There will] be no reconciliation with them.”

U.S. officials have complained that foreign fighters and weapons brought across the loose border from Syria have ended up in Tal Afar. U.S. troops recently have been attacked nearly every time they venture from their base near Mosul, said Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, a military spokesman. A few days ago, local and regional leaders called on Ham to tell him they had lost control of Tal Afar, Ham said.

In the troublesome south, local leaders in Najaf are also struggling to reclaim control, in hand with U.S. military and civilian officials who are eager to demonstrate that American aid can be unleashed as swiftly as its military might. Riding in a truck on his way to a school that his civil affairs unit has rehabbed, U.S. Army Sgt. Scott Carter, 32, said it is a matter of showing the Iraqi people that “we don’t just blow things up.”

“We’re in a prime position to show the Iraqis why we are in this country,” said Carter, part of a joint Marine-Army civil affairs team that is rehabbing schools, hospitals and other sites. “The insurgency is trying to win the hearts and minds of the people, and if they win the hearts and minds of the people, no matter what we do here [with force] is going to be powerful enough.”

Through several funding channels–including USAID, the Baghdad embassy and the military–the U.S. has earmarked tens of millions of dollars to refashion Najaf’s primitive water and sewer systems, along with many schools.

“This school will be nice,” said English teacher Hassan Sajid, 51, gazing at the half-repainted facade of a school for boys where U.S. troops recently invested about $50,000. “But there are many schools in other parts of the city that were seriously damaged in the last days of the fighting.”

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