US death toll in Iraq hits 2,000
The US toll in Iraq reached 2,000 casualties more than two and a half years after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, hounding US President George W. Bush's efforts to resolve chronic violence and bring the troops home.
Fatalities among US troops reached the milestone of 2,000 on Tuesday when the Pentagon announced that a US soldier injured in Iraq had died from his wounds in Texas.
"Staff Sergeant George Alexander Jr., 34, of Killeen, Texas, died at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas, on October 22, of injuries sustained in Samarra, Iraq, on October 17, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Bradley Fighting Vehicle," a Pentagon statement said.
Amid polls showing growing disapproval of the conflict among Americans, Bush warned Tuesday that the war "will require more sacrifice, more time and more resolve."
"The best way to honor the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission," Bush said.
According to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count website (icasualties.org), there have been 2,000 US deaths since American-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003, most from the insurgency that gripped the country after Saddam was toppled.
However, the official Pentagon count, last updated on Tuesday, remained at 1,993 military personnel killed and more than 15,000 injured since the start of the war.
"Two thousand is a significant number and will resonate with the US public," said Charles Heyman, a senior defense analyst at Jane's Information Group in London on Monday. "There is no doubt whatsoever about that."
"It will also resonate with the insurgents," he told AFP.
A Harris Interactive poll published Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal found that for the first time, a majority of Americans (53 percent) believe the Iraq war was the "wrong thing to do."
Only hours before the number of US military fatalities in Iraq reached 2,000, the poll showed that 44 percent said the situation for US troops in Iraq was getting worse, compared with 19 percent who thought it was improving.
Several US opposition Democrats seized on the grim figure to urge a reduction of US forces in Iraq.
"This is another tragic milestone in this costly war, in which too much blood has been spilled already," said Democratic Senator Robert Byrd on the floor of the US Senate, where lawmakers observed a moment of silence to honor the fallen troops.
"For the war we're fighting, the number of (US) deaths is about right," Sergeant First Class Joseph Barker told AFP after a patrol in southern Baghdad, currently one of the most violent areas.
He nonetheless also felt the figure was "2,000 too many."
The number of US dead, however, is dwarfed by the up to 30,000 Iraqi civilian casualties since coalition forces pushed across the borders in March 2003.
Between 26,690 and 30,051 Iraqi civilians have died since the invasion, according to Iraq Body Count, which monitors press reports.
In September alone, 4,373 Iraqis were killed in various attacks, including insurgent strikes and shootings by multinational forces, of which 3,015 were civilians, figures from the defense, health and interior ministries showed.
"The gruesome number of US war dead pales in comparison to the loss of life suffered by Iraqis," the anti-war ANSWER coalition, which organized a protest last month that drew more than 100,000 demonstrators in Washington, said in a statement marking the 2,000th US death.
"Bush and (Vice President Dick) Cheney are willing to fight this illegal war until the last drop of other people's blood," the group said.
Growing discontent in the United States has put Bush on the defensive.
Early this month he rapped "self-defeating" commentators who had begun to suggest the US should withdraw its 140,000 troops.
"In Iraq, there is no peace without victory. We will keep our nerve and we will win that victory," Bush vowed.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice steadfastly refused to say when troops might be pulled out, stressing they were in Iraq to wipe out the "malignant" influence of Islamic extremism in the Middle East.