Joe Conason's Journal

U.S. casualties in Iraq are worse than you probably think. Plus: Will Clark enter or not?


Salon Staff
August 4, 2003 11:44PM (UTC)

The war's true cost
Over the past six months, millions of Americans have sought superior coverage of international affairs, and specifically news concerning Iraq, from the British media. British newspapers and broadcasters have maintained a necessary skepticism toward the claims of our government and their own that has been largely lacking in US media. To note the difference is almost a clichi by now and yet I still find it remarkable that the Guardian, rather than an American paper, would publish the most thorough account of U.S. casualties that I have seen to date.

Julian Borger summarizes the honest body count:

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"US military casualties from the occupation of Iraq have been more than twice the number most Americans have been led to believe because of an extraordinarily high number of accidents, suicides and other non-combat deaths in the ranks that have gone largely unreported in the media.

Since May 1, when President George Bush declared the end of major combat operations, 52 American soldiers have been killed by hostile fire, according to Pentagon figures quoted in almost all the war coverage. But the total number of U.S. deaths from all causes is much higher: 112.

"The other unreported cost of the war for the US is the number of American wounded, 827 since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Unofficial figures are in the thousands. About half have been injured since the president's triumphant appearance on board the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln at the beginning of May. Many of the wounded have lost limbs."

The other night, I ran into a friend who has returned to New York after working as an embedded reporter with troops in the Third Infantry Division. Although emphatically pro-war, he sounded a bit shaken because he had just learned that a soldier he'd befriended over there was wounded in a guerrilla attack and lost an arm.

The sword in the stone
As concerns about the war's purposes and conduct bring down the President's approval numbers, which will suffer additional erosion with news that Colin Powell plans to quit, hopeful Democrats consider which candidate to field against him. The dedicated Dean supporters are understandably elated by his newsmagazine trifecta this week, and his Internet juggernaut is formidable. In the Iowa Poll published today, he is leading John Kerry, Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman. But the New York Times reports today that many Democrats who like the former Vermont governor continue to wonder whether he possesses the qualities needed to defeat Bush.

At a moment when Bush seems politically vulnerable, despite his enormous special-interest warchest, nobody wants to risk a rerun of the Mondale or Dukakis debacles. (Remember the M-1 tank photo op in 1988?) As one "pretty liberal" Iowan told the Times, that's one reason why -- despite his admiration for Dean and Dennis Kucinich --he showed up at an event for John Kerry whose genuine military record may well worry the impresario of that USS Lincoln burlesque.

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Others seeking military credentials (including my friend and co-author Gene Lyons) hope that Wesley Clark will decide to run after all. On Alternet, Suzi Parker reports from the retired general's home state of Arkansas:

"In Little Rock, Clark confidants say that he told them several months ago he wouldn't run for president unless he was drafted. His request has definitely become reality. Every day more people log on and sign up to work for a man they know little about. That, says many, is what lures them to Clark, a mystery man without the taint of party politicsClark tells aides he will make a decision about the future before Labor Day. The Draft Clark groups plan to descend on Little Rock with boxes of petitions in August."

I can hardly wait to hear Clark's retort, if and when Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich or some other conservative chicken-hawk attacks his patriotism.

[12:32 a.m. PST, August 4, 2003]

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