WASHINGTON, March 22 (UPI) -- As Iraq teeters on -- or over -- the brink of civil war the pressure is not easing on the hard-pressed U.S. ground forces there.
Over the past month, the average rate at which U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq has significantly fallen, the but the rates at which they are being wounded have dramatically increased.
U.S. mainstream media reports have focused only on the numbers being killed. But over the past eight months, we have repeatedly emphasized in this column that the far larger numbers of U.S. troops wounded, especially those wounded too seriously to return to active duty, represent a far broader and more statistically significant figure of the scale of insurgent activity and the degree to which it is succeeding or failing to inflict significant casualties on U.S. forces.
The total number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq through Tuesday, March 21 since the start of U.S. operations to topple Saddam Hussein on March 19, 2003, was 2,319, according to official figures issued by the Department of Defense, a rise of 49 in the past 39 days or an average of just over 1.3 killed per day.
The good news is that this is a more than 60 percent improvement on the rate of 3.1 killed per day in early February. And it is a 350 percent improvement on the 33 U.S. soldiers killed in only seven days from Jan. 11 through Jan. 17, an average of 4.7 soldiers killed per day.
The bad news, however, is that in the 39 days from Feb. 11 through March 21, 616 U.S. soldiers were injured in Iraq, an average of 15.8 per day. This was more than twice as bad as the Feb. 4-10 period when 47 U.S. soldiers were injured at an average rate of just under seven per day. And it was also more than 36 percent worse than the rate of the five-day period from Jan. 30 through Feb. 3 when 58 U.S. soldiers were injured, according to the DOD figures, at an average rate of 11.6 per day.
These figures are also of significance in that they represent a trend over almost 40 days -- a far longer period than than the ones in which we usually examine casualty rates and their statistical trends in the conflict.
The number of U.S. troops wounded in action from the beginning of hostilities on March 19, 2003, through March 21, 10, was 17,269, according to the Department of Defense figures.
Some 7,981 of those troops were wounded so seriously that they were listed as "WIA Not RTD" in the DOD figures. In other words: Wounded in Action Not Returned to Duty, an increase of 275 such casualties in 39 days, at an average rate of just over seven injured per day.
This more than twice as bad as the 3.3 per day average of the Feb. 4-10 period and it was almost 50 percent worse than the Jan. 30-Feb. 3 period when 24 U.S. troops were wounded seriously enough that they were not returned to duty at an average rate of 4.8 per day.
These figures should also be seen in the context of another trend in the Iraqi conflict. Since the destruction of the dome of the Golden Mosque in Samara last month, for the first time Iraqi Shiites have started reacting in a popular, violent manner on a broad scale against the Sunni community.
This might be expected to distract the Sunni Muslim insurgents from focusing on targeting U.S. troops and, indeed, just a few days ago USA Today reported a trend we have been monitoring and documenting in this column for almost four months -- the number of attacks and casualties inflicted on U.S. forces has been decreasing somewhat while the insurgents have turned with increasing ferocity first on the new Iraqi security forces and, since January, against Iraqi civilian targets.
However, as we noted above, the capability of the insurgents to go on waging attacks on U.S. forces and increasing the number of them they are injuring has not diminished, it has increased: The insurgency is therefore clearly growing in its capabilities as it has been able to inflict far worse punishment on the Iraqi Shiite community while maintaining or even increasing its rate of casualties inflicted on U.S. troops at the same time.
President George W. Bush's optimism and determination to stay the course in his press conference Tuesday must therefore be tempered by the sobering reality reflected in the statistics issued by his own Department of Defense: There is not the slightest indication that current U.S. strategy and tactics in Iraq are diminishing the popularity and capability of the insurgency. It continues to grow in its tactical capabilities against both U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians.