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Don't Panic...Your War Questions Answered 

How many people have died in the Iraq War?

Three years ago this week, US forces invaded Iraq.

As of March 17, the US Department of Defense confirms that 2,309 American soldiers have died in Iraq. To date, 16,653 American soldiers have been wounded. The Pentagon doesn't provide many details about wounded soldiers, so it's unclear how many of those include maiming or permanently crippling injuries.

And 2,172 of the American soldiers killed so far in Iraq died after President Bush's B.S. "Mission Accomplished" speech, delivered from the deck of the USS Lincoln on May 1, 2003.

Speaking of Lincoln, I wonder what he, our greatest-ever president and wartime leader, would have thought of a wartime presidential speech staged to mimic the triumphant scene in Top Gun where Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer embrace after having iced a few Commies. Homoeroticism aside, I suspect Lincoln wouldn't have been pleased.

Several other countries have contributed soldiers and personnel to the invasion and occupation. They are sometimes referred to as the "coalition of the willing," and 206 of those soldiers have died; 103 of them were from the United Kingdom.

The UK provided 46,000 military personnel for the initial invasion, by far the biggest non-American force. Currently, the UK has 8,400 soldiers in Iraq.

It's not clear how many British soldiers have been wounded. Like their colleagues on this side of the Atlantic, the British government tries to downplay the human cost of the war by obscuring and low-balling the number of soldiers wounded and the nature of their injuries. In January, UK Defense Secretary John Reid announced that 230 British soldiers had been wounded, 40 of them "seriously." Reid said he released the number after the wife of a soldier who lost one leg and one arm in Iraq pressured him to reveal how many other people had been grievously wounded.

The number of Iraqi civilians who have died since the invasion is unclear. The people who are trying to count are impeded not only by insurgent and terrorist violence, but by the US military and the Iraqi government. As invasion force honcho (and Laura Bush high schoolmate) Gen. Tommy Franks declared, the United States doesn't "do body counts" anymore. And earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that Iraq's Shi'ite majority party recently instructed Iraq's Health Ministry to stop including execution-style shootings in the country's official casualty count, an effort to conceal the number of reprisal killings carried out by Shi'ite militias against Sunni insurgents.

IraqBodyCount.net is a Web site that tallies media reports of Iraqi civilian deaths. Because different media sources frequently report different casualty counts for the same events, IraqBodyCount.net posts a minimum and maximum number. As of March 17, IraqBodyCount.net reported that between 33,679 and 37,795 Iraqi civilians had been killed in Iraq since March 2003. When President Bush said a few weeks ago that he thought 30,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed in the war, it was IraqBodyCount.net's total he was referencing.

According to IraqBodyCount.net's US spokesman, Scott Lipscomb, even the organization's maximum number is an undercount because not every death gets reported in the media. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution (a think-tank that, among other things, tries to tally the war's human costs) estimates that between 45,000 and 75,000 Iraqi civilians have died. The Associated Press recently quoted O'Hanlon saying that President Bush's 30,000 comment was "on the lower end of the plausible range."

Anecdotal evidence seems to support the higher civilian casualty estimates. The Baghdad morgue has received 24,000 bodies since 2003. Almost all of them were victims of violence. Baghdad is home to about one-fifth of Iraq's population.

Whichever death total you choose to accept, and whatever you think of the war, there's no getting around that the human cost of this war has been colossal. Iraq's population is less than one-eleventh the size of ours. If a war of similar intensity had been taking place in the United States for the past three years, between 385,000 and 855,000 Americans would have been killed.

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