American soldiers in Iraq have been dying at a rate of two a day since Iraqis regained political control on June 28 — a drop from the deadliest months of violence before the handover but still about the same rate overall as in the 16 months since the U.S. invasion.
The U.S. military death toll now has reached 900, and the number of American soldiers injured is approaching 6,000.
It is not possible to predict when the casualty count will begin to drop, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday. American troops will be less at risk when Iraq's own security forces become better trained and equipped to fight the insurgency, he said.
Fewer U.S. soldiers have been killed by roadside bombs and mortar attacks since the handover, according to Pentagon figures. At the same time, at least 10 soldiers and Marines have been killed in vehicle accidents since then, compared with none reported earlier in June.
As of Wednesday, 47 American troop deaths — hostile and non-hostile — had been announced in the three weeks since an interim Iraqi government took power. That was a marked increase from the 26 deaths reported in the three weeks before the handover but less than in May and April.
The death rate since the power transfer has been almost exactly two a day, the same as recorded between January and July. The rate over the entire period since the invasion in March 2003 has been about 1.9 a day.
The worst months so far have been April 2004 with 135 deaths, November 2003 with 82 and May 2004 with 80.
In addition to the 900 reported killed so far, according to The Associated Press count, another soldier, Spc. Keith M. "Matt" Maupin, of Batavia, Ohio, is listed as missing and two Defense Department civilians also have been killed.
There are about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, both asserted Wednesday that the insurgency is increasingly focusing its attacks on Iraqis who are cooperating with the American forces.
There are no independent figures on recent Iraqi deaths, but Myers said that since the transition 100 Iraqi security officers and civilians have been killed and 250 have been injured.
A large portion of the American deaths since June 28 have happened in Anbar Province, an expanse of western Iraq that includes the restive cities of Ramadi and Fallujah and a portion of the Syrian border area. At least 17 Marines and four soldiers have died in that province since June 28.
That also is the area of Iraq where Marine Corps Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, 24, of Salt Lake City, disappeared June 20. He turned up three weeks later in Lebanon, saying he had been abducted.
Vehicle accidents remain a source of worry for the Army and Marines. Two 2nd Infantry Division soldiers from Fort Lewis, Wash., were killed July 14 when their vehicle rolled over as the driver tried to avoid a crash, and two soldiers of the 94th Field Artillery Brigade were killed in a head-on collision July 11.
On July 10, four Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., were killed in an accident in Anbar Province.
As for the war wounded, the Pentagon this week put the figure at 5,804, an increase of more than 400 since its previous total was published June 29. Two soldiers died this month at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., of wounds sustained earlier.
Counts of the number of U.S. service members killed in Iraq vary, with some already exceeding the 900 figure. The Pentagon count can lag slightly. The AP count is based on names of the dead released by the Pentagon and reports from the military in the region.
In Iraq, Capt. Thomas H. Johnson Jr., says he doesn't dwell on the possibility he might be killed. But he has been hit hard by comrades' deaths, particularly that of a friend, 1st Lt. Christopher Kenny, who died in May with three other soldiers when their Humvee rolled into a canal.
"I gave him CPR and mouth to mouth, felt a pulse and was with him on the way to hospital, where he died," said Johnson. "And all I was thinking about was how I was going to tell his wife. It is the families who suffer most."
On the Net:
Pentagon casualty report at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jul2004/d20040720cas.pdf