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US comes to grips with 1,500 dead

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US comes to grips with 1,500 dead

By Adam Brookes

BBC Pentagon correspondent

The number of American military personnel who have been killed in Iraq has passed 1,500, according to totals released by the Pentagon.

The 1,502 dead include those killed in accidents as well as combat since the war in Iraq began nearly two years ago.

Just over three-quarters of the fatalities were classified as killed in action.

In the region of 11,000 Americans have been wounded. Of those, about half returned to duty.

The overall trend in American casualties is difficult to discern.

There were big spikes in January - 107 dead - and November - 137 dead.

But since the elections in January the numbers seem to be heading back down. February saw 58 fatalities.

The Pentagon argues that is because the insurgency is losing momentum in the wake of Iraq's experiment with democracy.

And it says counter-insurgency operations are having an effect.

Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said on Thursday: "The intelligence is without question getting better. There's no question we have apprehended or killed an enormous number of insurgents, so we may well be seeing people who are less skilled at what they're doing."

Security forces targeted

But Mr Di Rita's comments are speculative.

Sources with close links to the intelligence community say there remains a dearth of specific intelligence on the strength, motivations and intentions of the insurgents.

And attacks against Iraqis appear to be as vicious, and as effective, as ever.

A bomb in Hilla on Monday killed more than 120 people and injured dozens more.

In recent months, the focus of insurgent attacks, according to the Pentagon, has shifted discernibly towards the Iraqi security forces.

They make "softer" targets, and the killing of Iraqi policemen and government employees serves to disrupt the establishment of a new Iraqi government.

Falling support

In the cold calculation of military operations, the American casualty levels are sustainable. They pose no serious threat to the viability of operations in Iraq.

Whether such figures are sustainable politically back home in America is another question.

Polls show that public confidence in the war has eroded over the last year.

One year ago according to Gallup, 23% of Americans believed that the war in Iraq was a mistake. Now that figure is 47%.

Gallup also says that nearly half of all Americans, 48% believe that neither side is winning in Iraq.

Nonetheless, recent testimony in Congress strongly suggests the generals and politicians are most concerned about the expense of the war and the strains on armed forces equipment and deployments.

The lengthening list of those killed in action has not yet become a deciding factor in the conduct of the war.

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/worl...cas/4316955.stm

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