Just days after the Iraq war’s fifth-anniversary commemoration and Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s visit, the 4,000th American was killed in Iraq on Sunday. Four soldiers died when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle in southern Baghdad.
That sobering note punctures generally favorable press for the American troop surge; the downbeat was amplified by a fusillade of mortars hitting the Green Zone, just a week after a CNN correspondent touted its safety. No Americans were killed in the Green Zone attacks, though one American was wounded.
According to a McClatchy News service time line, at least four separate attacks were aimed at the Green Zone, part of 21 assaults around the country that left at least 57 Iraqis dead.
The Boston Globe reports that, “Shiite leaders on Friday warned followers to expect more bloodshed after a suicide bombing near a Shiite shrine in Karbala today and continued clashes between Iraqi forces and Shiite militias in southern areas of the country.”
The Associated Press notes the suspicion for the Green Zone attacks “fell on Shiite extremists based on the eastern areas from which the weapons appeared to have been fired,” adding that the outburst “followed a series of clashes last week between U.S. and Iraqi forces and factions of the Mahdi Army, the biggest Shiite militia loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.”
Anti-war academic Juan Cole mocks CNN’s triumphant Green Zone report of last week, citing it as an exemplar of “how the war objectives keep being defined down, that for the Green Zone to be relatively safe was trumpeted as an accomplishment. The ‘green zone’ was always supposed to be safe, since it was heavily guarded and surrounded by blast walls.”
According to CNN, the 4,000 Americans who have died include 3,263 killed in attacks and fighting, and 737 in “non-hostile” conditions such as traffic accidents and suicides. The Los Angeles Times notes that despite the Americans’ deaths Sunday, monthly U.S. casualties are down from 100 last spring to approximately 27 so far in March, which has a week to go. Assuming March military deaths are fewer than 50, it will mark the sixth-straight month below that number, a string not seen since the war’s first year.
As for daily violence around Iraq, it’s rising again after a big drop toward the end of last year. The New York Times, quoting the Pentagon, reports that “after dropping significantly last fall, the number of daily attacks remained static from November through January, the last month for which official figures were available.” However, Reuters adds that “there has been an increase in attacks since January.”
The Bush administration paints the 4,000th American death as a round number, no more or less significant than any other U.S. casualty. Just a week after answering “so?” to a reporter’s question about Americans’ opposition to the war, Vice President Dick Cheney again downplays popular sentiment. “You regret every casualty, every loss,” Cheney said during a Jerusalem visit, according to Reuters. “It may have a psychological effect on the public, but it’s a tragedy that we live in a kind of world where that happens.”
So far, the Iraq war has cost $660 billion, approximately 85,000 Iraqis have been killed and 160,000 American troops remain in-country. The troop surge is rushing headlong into a scheduled summer draw-down of forces timed to when already-extended tours end. However, the Los Angeles Times says that a draw-down could be “paused” an unspecified number of weeks beyond July, with at least 140,000 staying through the end of President Bush’s term in January 2009. The Times reports that Joint Chief Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen opposes any “pause” in withdrawals out of concern for overall military readiness.
“The Joint Chiefs agree with [Iraq Commander Gen. David] Petraeus on the importance of maintaining security gains. But Mullen believes the threat of violence in Baghdad must be weighed against the risk of damaging the Army through repeat deployments that lead midlevel personnel to quit,” the Times says.
David Brauer, who writes about media and other topics for MinnPost, can be reached at dbrauer [at] minnpost [dot] com.