A remarkable thing happened in Iraq in August: Not a single one of the 48,000 U.S. troops stationed there died.
It was America’s first fatality-free month there since the war began in 2003. In all, some 4,500 U.S. soldiers have died over the course of the eight-year campaign, including more than 50 since combat operations officially ended a year ago.
The calm August followed an alarmingly bloody June that saw 14 American troops killed in Iraq, the highest monthly total in three years. The New York Times examines a variety of potential explanations for the drop-off in violence. American commanders attribute it partly to increased vigilance by Iraqi security forces, who came under pressure from the U.S. to clamp down on Iranian-backed Shiite militias after a spate of attacks in June. Previously, the Shiite-led government had focused its efforts on al-Qaida and other Sunni insurgent groups, a U.S. spokesman told the Times.
Charts compiled by the independent website iCasualties.org show that Coalition deaths have dropped sharply from their peak in 2007, the year of Bush’s troop surge. But spikes in April and June had the death toll for 2011 set to surpass 2010, a worrisome development given that Obama is aiming to withdraw troops by the end of the year. Time will tell whether August was a turning point or an aberration.
Of course, there are other people in Iraq besides Americans. And they weren’t all so lucky in August. Working from the same data set as the Times, Reuters Africa came up with a story far more pessimistic in tone. It noted that at least 2,600 civilians, police and soldiers have been killed in violence in Iraq since combat operations concluded in September 2010. The civilian toll for August was 155, according to the Iraqi Health Ministry. Low points included coordinated attacks on August 15 that killed at least 60 and a bombing of a Sunni mosque on August 28 that claimed 32. “Iraq remains a very dangerous place,” Major General Jeffrey Buchanan said.
According to Iraq Body Count, over 100,000 civilians have died in Iraq since the invasion began.