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"Hush, hush on coalition deaths"

"Hush, hush on coalition deaths"

By Firas Al-Atraqchi

When U.S. forces first rolled into the outskirts of Baghdad on April 6th, the number of coalition fatalities stood at 126 -- 96 U.S. and 30 British. In the month following the "liberation" of Baghdad, the eradication of Saddam's Baath party, and the control of all Iraqi territory by the coalition and their allies, that number jumped to 172 total fatalities. In the week since May 6th, the number rose further to 186 -- 155 U.S. and 31 British deaths.

The reports from military sources seem to cover all action/accidental deaths in Iraq up to May 10th; the change in the total number reflects late reporting or pending investigations into cause of death.

Some reports, mentioned by CNN, seem to indicate bizarre accidents: "Killed when he fell from a ladder, causing his M4 rifle to accidentally discharge on May 3, 2003; Killed April 17, 2003, in a Kuwait vehicle accident; Killed on April 28, 2003, when he was struck by a civilian vehicle."

The rise in military fatalities has received scant attention in mainstream media. During the war, newspapers and broadcast media would lead their coverage with an update of the number of deaths, POWs, or Missing in Action. Since the toppling of the Saddam statue on April 9th, however, there have been few reports of military fatalities.

Troubling signs emerging from Iraq may indicate why the media has strayed from reporting the rising number of coalition casualties. Earlier this week, U.S. soldiers were ordered to shoot looters who did not desist. Lawlessness and fear have so gripped Baghdad that "the Third Infantry Division has been told to stop sending troops home and to step up patrols, a move that reflects mounting concerns within the Bush administration about security in Baghdad," the New York Times reports.

Failure to return the city to normal functions, restore power as the summer months approach, and provide Iraqi citizens with the most basic necessities are beginning to worry U.S. officials that they have grossly mismanaged and underestimated the work required in Iraq. Some senior officials are beginning to wonder if the United Nations may be needed after all.

The failures in Baghdad led to the impromptu replacing of General Jay Garner and Barbara Bodine, both administrators of post-war Iraq, with anti-terrorism expert Paul Bremer. However, some U.S. senators have begun to question the pace and skills of the U.S. as an occupying force in Iraq.

"I remain genuinely concerned that we are in a situation where we have won the war and we lose the battle," Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said. Unless order is restored, he warned later, "[t]here is a real chance that the victory we claim is not a victory at all." (Washington Post, May 15)

Further complicating U.S. efforts in Iraq is the pesky detail of weapons of mass destruction, the very provision that launched the war. Despite hundreds of U.S. teams scouring the Iraqi countryside and questioning and detaining hundreds of Iraqi scientists and technicians, there is no evidence, as yet, that Iraq had WMD or was intending to use them on U.S. forces.

U.S. forces have started to pinpoint scapegoats for their apparent failures in Iraq. In previous months, U.S. officials blamed Iran for inciting violence against U.S. forces. Recently, the U.S. seems to have recanted that the Baath party was eradicated and has now chosen to blame Baathist loyalists for acts of violence and subterfuge. "There are still regime elements out there that are actively, aggressively seeking to impede, discredit or disrupt coalition operations," Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, said Wednesday. "They destroy infrastructure repairs made by the coalition and the Iraqis." ( Los Angeles Times, May 15)

The victory in Iraq is beginning to ring hollow as the country slowly slips in chaos.

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