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The US Body Count in Iraq: an Analysis of Who is Dying and How

In the month of October 2006, 104 Americans in uniform died in the war in Iraq. That makes this October the fourth most deadly month in Iraq for Americans since the war began in March 2003. (In April 2004, 135 Americans were killed; in November 2004 there were 137 killed; and in January 2005, it was 107). While it is impersonal to manipulate the statistics, it is also informative.

The Department of Defense (DOD) has made available significant data on the dead and wounded from the war. Among others, two particularly useful entities have analyzed DOD’s and other data to help us understand the numbers. One is the website for the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count; another is a study released last August by the Population Studies Center of the University of Pennsylvania: “Mortality of American Troops in Iraq.” The material below summaries their data (and provides additional links to them).

Total Dead

As of Nov. 1, 2006, 2,817 Americans have died in Iraq of all causes; 239 military personnel have been killed from other countries (U.K.: 120; “other:” 119), for a grand total of 3,055 casualties from the coalition forces. (See these and more data at http://icasualties.org/oif/

The data at www.icasualties.org for American military fatalities include:

2,268 deaths from hostile fire, which occurs in many forms; and 550 non-combat deaths.

Among the deaths resulting from hostile fire:

improvised explosive devices (IEDs) caused at least 998, or 35 percent of all deaths, which exceeds all other causes.

Although the other subcategories at www.icasulaties.org includes some causes listed more than once and other poorly organized or unexplained entries (from what DOD appears to have provided), other hostile fire causes attributed in the data include:

unspecified hostile fire: 425, or 15 percent;

small arms fire: 272, or 10 percent;

mortar attacks: 85, or 3 percent;

rocket propelled grenades (RPGs): 104, or 4 percent;

cars bombs: 76, or 3 percent;

suicide car bombs: 54, or 2 percent;

other suicide bombers: 30, or 1 percent.

The leading cause of non-hostile deaths were vehicle accidents (201 deaths, or 7 percent of the total). Other causes included:

helicopter accidents: 74, or 3 percent;

weapon accidents: 76, or 3 percent.

“friendly fire:” 8, or 0.3 percent;

homicides: 7, or 0.2 percent; and

suicides: 3, or 0.1 percent.

(See various details at http://icasualties.org/oif/Stats.aspx.)

Wounded:  Contrary to the approximate 20,000 wounded that the press typically reports, the www.icasualties.org website reports the following:

14,414 wounded–no medical air transport required;

6,273 wounded–medical air transport required;

6,430 non-hostile injuries–medical air transport required;

17,662 diseases–medical air transport required.

Assuming medical air transport is an indicator of serious wounds, injuries, or sickness, these data can also be described as follows:

6,273 seriously wounded;

6,430 seriously injured in non-hostile events (e.g. vehicle accidents)

17,662 seriously ill (e.g. serious heat prostration)

A total of 30,365 seriously wounded, injured, or sick–all causes.

For those not receiving medical air transport:

14,414 wounded who could be treated without air evacuation.

Grand Total: 44,779. (See http://www.icasualties.org/oif/default.aspx.)

Thus, counting all forms of wounds, injuries, and illness, the total “casualties” are more than twice the number typically reported in the press.

Branch of Service Fatalities

The distribution of U.S. fatalities by branch of service, as reported by www.icasualties.org, is as follows:

Army (active duty): 1,435

Marines (active duty): 712

Army National Guard: 377

Army Reserve: 103

Marine Reserve: 97

Navy: 46

Air Force: 25

Navy Reserve: 13

Coast Guard: 1

Air National Guard: 1

Department of the Army: 4

Department of the Air Force: 2

Department of Defense: 1

(See http://www.icasualties.org/oif/Service.aspx.)

Using data for the period between March 21, 2003, and March 31, 2006, the University of Pennsylvania study provides some analysis of these numbers, as follows:

Compared to the war in Vietnam, the chances U.S. military personnel will be killed in Iraq are significantly lower. With 56,838 deaths over a period of 2,608,650 “person-years of exposure,” the Vietnam “death rate” was 21.8 per 1,000, compared to 3.9 for Iraq. Vietnam was 5.6 times more deadly for deployed troops as Iraq. Reasons cited in the study for the difference are improvements in military medicine, faster evacuation to closer medical care, and more and better body armor. (It is also possible–but not reported in the study–that the nature of the combat in Vietnam was different–and perhaps more lethal. For example, U.S. combat training may now be better, or the enemy may have been more dangerous.)

The number of deaths compared to the number wounded was also higher in Vietnam; 0.24 in Vietnam; 0.13 in Iraq, presumably for the same reasons the study articulated.

The death rates for branch of service in Iraq also vary considerably:

the risk of death is greatest in Iraq for Marines (both active and reserve) at 8.5 per 1,000;

Army (active and reserve) personnel are experiencing 3.4 deaths per 1,000 deployed;

Navy personnel are less exposed at a rate of 0.83;

Air Force personnel are the least exposed at a rate of 0.4.

The average death rate across all services is 3.9.

Put another way, the chance of a deployed armed services member dying in Iraq is one out of every 255 per year.

The comparable death rate for military age civilian males in the U.S. is 1.5 per 1,000, about 40 percent less than that of military personnel in Iraq.

Rank

Generals and admirals in Iraq are safer than their age cohort is in America; none have died in Iraq. However:

30 majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels have died;

156 lieutenants and captains have died;

the vast majority of the dead are:

sergeants (738 dead); and

privates, corporals, and specialists (1,359 dead).

(See the absolute data for all ranks)

The University of Pennsylvania study assessed the relative risk:

Army and Marine enlisted personnel have 40 percent and 36 percent higher mortality than all officers, respectively.

However, Army and Marine lieutenants, who typically lead combat patrols, have a higher mortality rate than more senior officers and enlisted personnel; Army and Marine lieutenants have a mortality rate 19 percent and 11 percent higher, respectively, than all personnel in their respective branches of service.
Gender

All but 64 of the deaths in Iraq have been males. With women not permitted to hold positions primarily intended for combat, their mortality is 5.5 times less that of males.

Race and Ethnicity

The University of Pennsylvania study reports that DOD’s data do not make analysis of mortality across race and ethnicity easy; the study did, however, find that:

Hispanics have a mortality rate 21 percent higher than non-Hispanics;

blacks have a mortality rate about 60 percent that of whites, and less than 50 percent the rate of “other” ethnicities (American Indian, others natives, and “multi-race.”)

The study did not explain the higher Hispanic mortality rate but did explain the lower mortality rate for black personnel as a result of higher representation in categories with less exposure to combat, such as the female gender and perhaps technical or support services.

Other Categories

Icasualties.org reports a “partial list” of 367 civilian contractors from all non-Iraqi nationalities as fatalities and 116 fatalities among journalists from all nations.

As Republican and Democratic candidates for elective office position themselves on the politics of the war in Iraq for advantage in the upcoming congressional elections, it is useful to inform ourselves about who and how many are experiencing the real risks. Currently, the politicians are waiting for a more favorable environment after the elections to sort out what they are actually going to do, if anything, about the war; meanwhile, the military personnel in Iraq–all of them–have more important things to worry about.

WINSLOW T. WHEELER is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information and author of The Wastrels of Defense. Over 31 years, he worked for US Senators from both political parties and the Government Accountability Office on national security issues. He can be contacted at: winslowwheeler@comcast.net.

 

 

 

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Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight.  He spent 31 years working for the Government Accountability Office and both Republican and Democratic Senators on national security issues.

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