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Analysis: 16,000 Americans wounded in Iraq

By
MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The week of Iraq's parliamentary election was not the lull that many reports described it as being. For even though Sunni insurgents allowed the electoral process on Dec. 15 to go ahead smoothly, they did not let up in their attacks on American forces.

The number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq last week was significantly down, but the number wounded -- always a broader and statistically more reliable indicator to the scale and intensity of the insurgency, was significantly up.

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As of Monday, Dec. 19, the total number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq since the start of U.S. operations to topple Saddam Hussein on March 19, 2003, was 2,158 according to official figures issued by the Department of Defense, a rise of 14 in seven days. Therefore, over the past week, U.S. soldiers were being killed at a rate of two a day in Iraq. This was a slight improvement on the rate of 2.1 per week at which they were being killed during the previous period of eight days.

Also on Monday, in a grim reminder of the insurgents' still-lethal capabilities, four U.S. soldiers from Fort Riley, Kan. serving in the U.S. Army's 3rd Brigade were killed when a bomb exploded under their M-113 in Malahma in predominantly Sunni Muslim central Iraq.

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The attack fitted the pattern whereby improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or roadside bombs, continued to account for more than half the total casualties inflicted on U.S. troops -- an ominous indicator that the technical expertise of the insurgents.

The rate of deaths during the Dec. 8-14 period was significantly below the 2.4 killed per day in mid-November, a figure that had previously been heralded as a sign of improvement. In late October the casualty rate was three times higher; troops were being killed at a rate of six per day.

However, the rate at which U.S. troops were being injured in Iraq very seriously rose during the week of the elections. The number of U.S. troops wounded in action from the beginning of hostilities on March 19, 2003, through Dec. 19, was 16,061, the Pentagon said.

This, therefore, was the week that the figure for U.S. troops wounded in Iraq broke through the 16,000-barrier. Some 7,068 of those troops were wounded so seriously that they were listed as "WIA Not RTD" by the DOD. In other words: Wounded in Action Not Returned to Duty. This meant that their injuries were so severe that in many, if not most, cases they will be crippled or mentally impaired for the rest of their lives or suffer long-term health problems from their wounds.

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During the last week, 106 U.S. soldiers were injured in Iraq in seven days, an average of 15.14 per day. This is a dramatic rise when compared with only 74 wounded during the previous eight-day periods, an average of 9.25 per day. In other words, the rate at which the insurgents were able to inflict injuries on U.S. forces during the election week was more than 40 percent higher during the election week than on the previous eight-day period. This was also a marked deterioration on the average rate of 11 U.S. troops wounded per day at the beginning of December. And it was close to the alarmingly high rate of 17 injured per day in mid-November. Still, it was only half as bad as the figure of 30 injured per day in the first half of October.

The insurgents, indeed, appeared to be concentrating on inflicting casualties on U.S. forces rather than maintaining their rate of attrition on the new Iraqi security forces.

According to the Iraq Index Project of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, 44 Iraqi police and troops were killed in the nine-day period from Dec. 5 through Dec. 14, an average of just under five per day. This was the lowest average since the period between Oct. 27 and Nov. 2, which also showed an average of less than five troops and police killed per day. And it was a marked improvement on all periods since the beginning of November.

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The total number of Iraqi police and military killed from June 1, 2003, to Dec. 14, 2005, was 3,764, according to the Iraq Index Project figures. Eighty-eight members of Iraq's military and police were killed in the first 14 days of December, and average of under 6.5 per day. If these figures continue for the rest of the month, there will be around 185 fatalities among Iraqi police and military in December, just a little higher than the November low of 176.

However, that total is based on extrapolation, and the rate of casualties per day in the second and third weeks of December was lower than the daily rate in the previous period, which spanned the end of November and the beginning of December.

Despite the high incidence of car and truck bombs -- grimly referred to as multiple fatality bombings, or MFBs -- reported in November, the current figures for December are positive.

Up to Dec. 14, eight of these attacks were recorded in December, killing 97 people and wounding 146. If this rate continues, December will see a marked improvement on November's 41 attacks, with a projected total of 18 attacks, the lowest figure since March 2005.

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According to the Iraq Index Project figures, up to Dec. 14 4,976 people have been killed in MFB attacks since the start of the insurgency and another 10,079 wounded. However, MFB statistics do not include killed and injured in bombings where less than three people were killed.

The project also notes that the U.S. estimate of the number of insurgency combatants killed remains very rough and approximate. The estimates are rounded off at 3,000 per month for the three months of September, October and November.

There is good reason to look at the accuracy of these estimates. If correct, they would mean that the insurgency lost 9,000 troops in only three months when other U.S. military estimates have calculated that there are never more than 20,000 insurgents active at any one time.

Those figures, therefore, would -- if true -- mean that the insurgency had lost almost 50 percent of its active manpower in less than three months, a rate of attrition that has only been seen historically in the closing stages of counter-insurgency operations when the guerrilla movement is literally disintegrated and rapidly losing its ability to inflict casualties. There has so far been no sign of that process so far in Iraq and almost no respected U.S. military analyst believes it is happening.

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