theimage Distorted picture

There have been a number of reports suggesting that certain Western media sources are misleading the public as to the extent of the coalition casualties in Iraq. The creative accounting methods employed by major US news networks range from underreporting non-combat deaths among the US troops to simply neglecting even the officially-acknowledged casualties.

This failure to report non-combat deaths coupled with the US militarys practice of passing certain combat casualties as non-combat lead to a seriously distorted picture of the war in Iraq being presented to the US public. On July 10, for example, Pentagon detailed US fatalities sustained in Iraq between May 1 and July 9: 29 soldiers killed by hostile fire and 44 troops killed by non-hostile fire or in accidents. (Pentagon: 1,000 troops wounded in Iraq war, CNN, July 10, 2003)

Polls show that the majority of Americans believe that the coalition fatalities in Iraq are no higher than fifty. In reality, however, even the official US and British military reports show that the number of fatalities is nearly six times higher: as of July 30 the US and British officials announced 295 fatalities among its troops operating in Iraq.

Counter reset

Many media reports reflect only the US fatalities sustained since President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1. With time this side note disappeared from many reports published by AP, Reuters, UPI and other agencies and the pre-May 1st casualties became forgotten.
A characteristic illustration of how US casualties in Iraq are being misrepresented by the mainstream news agencies is the August 3 piece by the Associated Press entitled U.S Goes Two Days With No Combat Deaths by Steven R. Hurst. The article opens with the statement: For a second straight day, the U.S. military reported no fatal attacks Sunday on American soldiers in Iraq. The two days in question are August 2nd and August 3rd.

This assertion by the AP was made at the stroke of midnight in Baghdad and it is clearly premature and misleading as almost always US fatalities in Iraq are not being reported until 1-3 days later. Nevertheless, this AP piece was immediately reprinted by at least 200 major online news sources, including Yahoo, ABC, the Guardian and the News Journal. That will make at least one positive headline from Iraq...

The missing pieces

Another underreported aspect of the Iraqi war is the number of non-fatal casualties sustained by the coalition forces. Official reports detailing the numbers of US wounded, sick or injured in Iraq are few and far between. On July 10th the Department of Defense announced that since March 20th 791 US troops were injured in combat and 253 soldiers were injured in various accidents unrelated to combat. Thus, between March 20 and July 30 the US sustained approximately 2 dead and more than 9 wounded per day.
The first reported US fatality was Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin of the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron - 1, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. The last fatality reported on July 30 was 1st Lieutenant Leif E. Nott of the A Troop, 1st Battalion, 10th Cavalry from Fort Hood, Texas. Between these two reports 247 killed US soldiers.

These are the official reports but how accurate are they? The official reports detail US casualties in Iraq, but what about the thousands US troops deployed in support of this operation in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other places outside Iraq? There is no official information about casualties among these troops.


The ratio of the killed to the number of wounded can reveal significant information about the nature of combat. Another important factor is the ratio of combat killed to non-combat. A high percentage of non-combat fatalities points to difficulties the troops are experiencing with adapting to unusual combat environment in addition to indicating morale and discipline problems.

A substantially high number of wounded compared to the number of killed is a characteristic result of hit-and-run attacks and similar brief combat engagements.

Based on the official figures, on the average the US forces sustain about 9 wounded for every two fatalities. The resulting wounded-to-killed ratio of 4.5 is the highest of any sustained combat operation conducted by the US military during the past hundred years. The wounded-to-killed ratios for previous armed conflicts involving the US troops are as follows:

Conflict: Wounded-to-Killed Ratio

WWI: 1.75
WWII: 1.65
Korean War: 2.45
Vietnam War: 2.64
Persian Gulf War: 1.59
Afghanistan War: 3.21
Iraq War: 4.5

The high wounded-to-killed ratio is an indicator of intense guerilla warfare.

In terms of absolute numbers, the US forces in Iraq on the average sustain about 60 killed per month. This is nearly nine times lower than the average number of monthly fatalities during the Vietnam War:

Conflict: Avg. Killed per Month

WWI: 2816
WWII: 6639
Korean War: 909
Vietnam War: 526
Persian Gulf War: 148
Afghanistan War: 1.6
Iraq War: 60

Of course, the key factor is the duration of the conflict. At 148 killed per month the Persian Gulf War was substantially more intense than the current operation in Iraq. However, the Persian Gulf War lasted only about a month and 148 killed represent all US fatalities in this conflict. The war in Iraq has been continuing for 4.5 months and the intensity of fighting remains high and indeed has been steadily increasing over the past several weeks. If the rate of US losses in Iraq remains at the same average levels as during the past four months, then by the end of the current year the total US losses would reach 550 killed and 2,600 wounded. It has been announced that the US troops will remain in Iraq for at least four years.