As the debate about when and how to exit Iraq intensifies, it is essential to have information that is accessible and that puts the human costs of the war in context.
More American soldiers have died in Iraq than in all US conflicts put together since Vietnam. About eight times more soldiers have died in Iraq than in Afghanistan and all other countries where the United States is fighting terrorism, combined. Most of those who have died came from poor, rural areas. The smaller US territories and commonwealths are paying the greatest price. American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands have the highest number of deaths per capita. On the other hand, Puerto Rico has the second-lowest number. Of the states, Vermont has the highest and Utah the lowest number of deaths per capita.
Approximately 26 percent of those killed have been minorities. This percentage is about the same as in the Gulf War (24 percent), but much greater than in the Vietnam War (14 percent) or even Afghanistan (19 percent). Citizen soldiers (reservists and members of the National Guard) are shouldering a significant proportion of the casualties, accounting for about one-quarter of all US deaths since the war began. More than 15,500 US soldiers have been wounded–more than seven times the number who have died.
It is extremely difficult to get precise data in Iraq’s chaotic war zone. The Pentagon reports the number of wounded only about twice a month, and warns that many of its statistics are subject to change. Some of the numbers compiled on these pages can only be estimates. One of the most up-to-date sources of casualty information, relying on Department of Defense data, is the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count website (icasualties.org), where dedicated volunteers keep daily track of the US victims. Other helpful sources include The Iraq Quagmire, a report by the Institute for Policy Studies (ips-dc.org); globalsecurity.org; and tedkennedy.com.
Sixty journalists have been killed in Iraq, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The exact number of private contractors and other civilian employees who have been killed is not known. But at least 428 have died and 3,963 have been injured, according to Knight Ridder Newspapers. Of these deaths, at least 147 are Americans, the New York Times reports. This figure is probably low; seventy-nine employees from Halliburton alone have died in Iraq, according to a company spokesperson.
The total number of Iraqis who have been killed will never be known. Recently the Pentagon reported that nearly 26,000 Iraqis had been “killed or wounded from insurgent attacks” from the beginning of 2004 to September 2005. But when you add the estimated number of Iraqis killed by American forces, the figure could be more than 100,000, according to a controversial 2004 study published in The Lancet, a respected British medical journal. Another source, iraqbodycount.org, estimates that by late November, Iraqi deaths totaled between 27,115 and 30,559.
The war has already cost the United States an estimated $251 billion. Each day an estimated $195 million is being spent–money that could provide twelve meals to every starving child in the world, according to Senator Ted Kennedy’s office. In addition, one day of Iraq War expenses could cover what the College Board estimates to be the full cost of a public higher education for some 17,000 American students.
The tragedy of Iraq can never be told by numbers alone. To borrow from John Crawford’s firsthand account of the war, The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell, the following chart “won’t bring back anyone’s son or brother or wife.” But perhaps it will “simply make people aware, if only for one glimmering moment,” of the terrible costs of a war that refuses to end.