‘Numbers’ underscore deadliness of conflict

WASHINGTON (AP) — The story of the Iraq war can be told in stark numbers and mournful milestones as the death toll for US troops reached 2,500 and the price tag rose to $320 billion.

“It’s a number… a sad benchmark,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said Thursday of the new death count.

It was reached two days after President George W. Bush’s secretive trip to Baghdad to meet with Iraq’s new leaders and to rally American troops.

“The president would like the war to be over now,” Snow added.

Numbers abound. Some are marshalled by war defenders.

Others are used by critics to condemn the war. And there are some few can dispute:

— The war that began March 19, 2003, with a US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein has lasted almost three years and three months, longer than US involvement in World War I (one year, seven months) and the Korean conflict (three years, one month). It is closing in on World War II (three years, eight months).

— According to Pentagon figures, 18,490 US troops have been wounded in action, including 8,501 who did not return to duty.

— About 4,800 Iraqi police and security forces have died and at least 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, according to some estimates.

“The numbers are sobering for what was designed to be sort of a quick action,” said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

“The broader point is, we made a commitment to depose Saddam with our eyes closed, not our eyes open. Now all of this is coming back to haunt the entire operation.” The Bush administration and its defenders in Congress argue that the tide is turning.

They cite the completion of Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s unity Cabinet and his efforts to restore order in Baghdad, and the killing of terror leader Abu Mussab Zarqawi last week and subsequent raids on dozens of terrorist targets.

Some of the statistics trumpeted by the administration:

— American and Iraqi forces have carried out 452 raids since Zarqawi’s death on June 7. This has led to the deaths of 104 insurgents, the capture of 255 and the discovery of 28 significant arms caches, according to Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a US military spokesman in Baghdad.

— The 127,000 US troops now in Iraq is a drop from more than 130,000 in recent days.

— The army surpassed its recruiting goal for May. It was the 12th consecutive month of meeting or exceeding its target, even though the army fell short of its 2005 full-year goals, as did the Army National Guard and Army Reserve.

“I sense something different happening in Iraq. The progress will be steady towards a goal that has clearly been defined,” Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden after his quick trip to Baghdad.

But Democrats cite different statistics from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service: 54 per cent of Iraqi households lack access to clean water, 85 per cent lack reliable electricity, one in four Iraqi children suffers from chronic malnutrition, oil production still lags behind prewar levels.

The Senate on Thursday sent Bush an emergency spending bill for America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and aid to hurricane victims. Bush was expected to sign the measure, already approved by the House.

Of the bill’s $94.5 billion, $66 billion goes to the Pentagon for military operations overseas. That brings to almost $320 billion the tally for the war in Iraq and $89 billion for Afghanistan.

When Lawrence Lindsey, then chairman of Bush’s National Economic Council, predicted in September 2002 that war with Iraq could cost $100 billion to $200 billion, the White House openly scoffed. Lindsey was eased out of his job.

Stephen Daggett, a budget analyst for the Congressional Research Service, said the 1991 Gulf War waged by the first President George Bush cost $61 billion, or $87 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.

The Korean conflict cost $434 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. The Vietnam war — which lasted 8 1/2 years — cost $614 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. World War II cost the equivalent of $5.1 trillion.

One set of numbers Bush will not give — and which Democrats and some Republicans are pressing for the hardest — is the timing and size of a US troop withdrawal.

Telegraphing such a timetable would be “bad policy,” Bush says.

Democrat Party chief Howard Dean, however, says: “The reality is that our troops and their families still have no strategy from this president to get the job done in Iraq and get them home.”

One number from the Iraq war still stands at zero by all accounts: The number of weapons of mass destruction found by Iraqi and coalition forces. Bush had cited such weapons as the main reason for invading. 

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