As of Aug. 4, the official Coalition death toll for the war in Iraq was at 1,041 (919 of whom were Americans), according to the Department of Defense. And according to Reuters, the number of U.S. casualties from the Iraq war has already surpassed the number of U.S. soldiers killed within the first three years of Vietnam. But since the Pentagon does not conduct body counts of non-Americans, accurate statistics for the total number of casualties are not easily gathered.
Accurate statistics are important because they provide tangible figures on the cost of war in terms of the loss of human life. Rick Anderson, author of Home Front: The Government's War on Soldiers, uncovers some startling information on casualty counting.
"In a political war such as Iraq, as in Vietnam, a high count is an added government liability," says Anderson. "The Pentagon does compile lists who died, who was wounded without totals, which only keeps us guessing."
Many factors go into classifying someone as a casualty. For example, soldiers who die on American soil from war-related causes are not counted. Victims of suicides and murder, for instance, are not included in the U.S. casualty count.
According to a CNN report, four soldiers at Fort Bragg in North Carolina killed their wives in 2002. Three of the soldiers then killed themselves. According to Mark Benjamin, a United Press International investigative reporter, they were all taking the same antimalaria medicine, Lariam, prescribed to them after they returned from Afghanistan. Roche Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the drug, confirmed that one of the possible, yet rare, side effects of the drug is suicidal thoughts.
"Besides the debilitating long-term effects of vaccines, medicines and weaponry such as depleted uranium, soldiers in Iraq are suffering three times the common rate of brain injuries, Army doctors say, due to high-concussion explosive used by enemy forces," writes Anderson.
Generally speaking, the word "casualty" refers to someone who is wounded or killed as a result of the war. But from there, the classification process becomes more intricate.
For example, will a soldier who comes down with an illness be considered a casualty? And how is a "wounded" soldier classified? Will a soldier be counted if he suffered an accidental injury? Or are soldiers only counted if their wounds are a result of hostile activity? Different sources have different criteria for defining a casualty, which complicates the matter considering the potential for bias on behalf of the reporting source.
THE MEDIA VS. THE MILITARY
Although the U.S. Department of Defense supplies general figures for the number of dead coalition members, the United States does not count the number of Iraqi deaths including civilians.
"It's just something the U.S. doesn't want to do," says Frederick Shiels, a Mercy College professor who has conducted in-depth studies of civilian casualties for wars dated between the 1901 Philippine Insurrection and the Iraq War. Shiels says that gathering accurate numbers of Iraqi casualties would be very difficult after the country's collapse. "The U.S. cannot keep track of all the Iraqi civilian deaths because it would take too much energy," he says.
In previous wars, only rough estimates of foreign casualties were reported by the United States, according to Shiels. "[The United States] doesn't seem to think there would be any reward for counting the deaths because it would only agitate the antiwar faction," he adds.
The public relies heavily on media reports and independent studies for statistics on foreign casualties. A Foreign Policy in Focus report of June 24 estimates that between 9,300 and 11,400 civilians have been killed by American-led coalition forces.
The website Iraq Body Count (), which says it's the United States' responsibility to count Iraqi civilian casualties as the occupying authority under the Geneva Convention and Hague Relations, estimates that one in four Iraqi deaths is a civilian. "This includes civilian deaths resulting from the breakdown in law and order and deaths due to inadequate health care or sanitation," says the website.
The Harvard International Review spearheaded a project called the Campaign of Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) aimed at tallying the number of Iraqi civilian casualties. In cooperation with Iraq's Health Ministry, the project was able to count over 2,000 dead civilians shortly after the war was declared over. But the project was cut short for unknown reasons.
According to the website Unknown News (www.unknownnews.net, if the casualty count included civilians and troops from the coalition, Iraq and Afghanistan, the number would be closer to 27,000 dead worldwide, with almost 80,000 injured.
Shiels points out that the American media fails to report on foreign civilian deaths as often as the European or Arab media.
"If you assume that the media are in some sense business-driven they have to sell papers or competitive air time then they are going to want to report news that more directly affects the lives of their audiences, and that's always going to be American soldiers killed," says Shiels. "American soldiers experiencing a lack of supplies or hardships is always going to trump peasants or country people in foreign places who are killed, especially if they are killed in what some Americans think of as a greater cause."
No matter what the exact numbers are foreign or domestic, official or unofficial, accidental or not one thing is certain: All of these illnesses, injuries and deaths were a result of war. And without accurate data on war casualties, it's impossible to assess the true cost of waging war.
"The lesson here is to not accept an official number as the definition of war's consequences," writes Anderson. "The bottom line of war, in addition to combat tolls, is the sum of all nonnatural casualties in service to the country. The Pentagon will not agree. But once you cut through the politics and patriotism of war, you get down to the deciding factor: life."
THE COST AT HOME
On May 1, 2003, George W. Bush stood on the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended. At the time, six Florida servicemen had died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Just over one year later, 32 more Florida soldiers have been killed in the war, with 236 wounded, according to the Department of Defense. Eighty-four percent of Florida's casualties died after Bush declared "mission accomplished." Of Florida's 38 dead, four were from the Orlando/Winter Park area. All four died after May 1, 2003.
Army Spc. Robert D. Roberts, Winter Park
Robert D. Roberts was riding in a Humvee during a night mission in Baghdad in November 2003. He was killed when his vehicle collided with a tank.
According to an Associated Press report, Roberts' wife received three letters from her husband on the same day she learned of his death two of which were addressed to their 3-year-old son Jacob. "Take care of mommy until daddy gets home," he wrote in one of the cards.
Roberts was assigned to A Troop, 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, based in the Armstrong Barracks of Hanau, Germany.
Before he enlisted in the army, Roberts played football at Seminole High School and worked as a carpenter at an Italian restaurant. His brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Chris Roberts of Longwood, 24, also served in the Iraq war and returned home in August of 2003.
"Bobby went into the Army to be sure he could provide for his son, and he always did provide for us," said his wife, Jill Roberts, 20, in an AP report. "We want him remembered as the hero he was ... He was very proud of the job he was doing."
Army Sgt. 1st Class Bradley C. Fox, Orlando
Two months shy of the end of his tour in Iraq, Bradley C. Fox, 35, died on April 20 from injuries he received one month earlier. On March 14, Fox was riding in his M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle as a turret gunner when a roadside bomb detonated. Three soldiers died in the attack, and Fox sustained severe damage to his brainstem from shrapnel.
Eleven days after the attack, Fox was transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he had been living with his wife and three children when his 1st Armored Division was stationed there.
According to an AP report, his mother, Pat Dartt, a native of Adrian, Mich., flew to Germany to be at his side after a friend raised $300 to help her pay for the trip.
"That's my only child, and he's gone. Do you have any idea how hard it is to lose your only child?" Dartt said in tears. She described her son as "just wonderful. The best son a mother could have. He always took care of me, always made sure that I had everything that I needed."
The family remained hopeful despite his narrow odds for survival. "The prognosis was not good, but there was still some mixed feelings about how he'd be," said Jim Aldrich, Fox's maternal uncle, in an AP report.
A veteran of the first Gulf War, Fox planned to re-enlist and become a recruiter in the Midwest after he returned home from Iraq. He also wanted to teach military science or ROTC as a college instructor, and was working on his master's degree. "He was a tremendous dad, husband, family man, son and nephew," said Aldrich.
Fox was awarded with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for bravery. His funeral was held on the one-year anniversary of President Bush's speech May 1, 2004.
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Trace W. Dossett, Orlando
One day after Fox's funeral, Orlando lost another soldier. Trace W. Dossett, 37, died in an attack that killed five other Floridians. The Jacksonville-based Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 14 campsite was struck by a mortar in Al Anbar Province, just west of Baghdad. Dossett was a Seabee who was stationed in Iraq to do humanitarian work and fix sewer and electrical problems.
His father, Larry Dossett of Wapello, Iowa, says that although his son had adequate training to reconstruct the city, he doesn't feel the unit should have been in any war zones.
After serving in the Navy for six years, Dossett wanted to live a civilian life with his wife and two daughters. But when war broke out in Iraq, Dossett wanted to help his country.
"Of course we were a little taken back [when he told us this] because we knew what was going on [in Iraq], but he never looked back," said Larry Dossett. "Fortunately, there are young men out there like that so patriotic that they are willing to pay the supreme price for our freedom."
His father describes Dossett as a dependable, responsible man. He adds that his son was an avid golfer.
Dossett made his last phone call to his parents on a Sunday afternoon when his parents weren't home. He left a message on their answering machine. His parents saved the tape.
Marine Sgt. Kenneth Conde Jr., Orlando
Perhaps one of the most compelling stories of bravery comes from Kenneth Conde Jr. In April, Conde engaged in a gunfight with Iraqi insurgents and was shot in the shoulder. According to an AP report, Conde told his father that the insurgents began cheering.
"After he fell down, they started cheering and he just got angry and got back up and his platoon kept going forward," said Conde Sr., a retired Marine. "He refused to receive medical attention until his arm became so numb that he couldn't hold his weapon anymore. As long as he could fight, he wasn't going to stop."
For Conde who was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Expeditionary Force a bullet wound also meant a ticket back home. But he decided to stay in Iraq and continue fighting. On July 1, the Department of Defense reported that Conde was killed in action in the Al Anbar province of Iraq.
Before his death, Conde reportedly told his father that the war was a lot worse than what was being reported in the United States.
"It was getting overwhelming, day in and day out, getting through this hellhole. A lot of things were happening over there that they weren't publicizing here," said Conde Sr. "They weren't passing stuff on because, I guess, it would make things worse here in the United States for the president and stuff like that." He adds, "As a Marine, I understand the decisions he made. I respect them. As a father, I wish he had come home. Hopefully it's going to be worth something and not just be a number or a statistic."