by Winslow T. Wheeler, Director, Straus Military Reform Project
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.” It can be found here.
The material below summaries their data.
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 here.)
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 here.)
Wounded: Contrary to the approximate 20,000 wounded that the press typically
reports, the www.icasualties.org website reports the following:
- 14,414 wounded â€“ no medical air transport required;
- 6,273 wounded â€“ medical air transport required;
- 6,430 non-hostile injuries â€“ medical air transport required;
- 17,662 diseases â€“ 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 â€“ all causes.
For those not receiving medical air transport:
- 14,414 wounded who could be treated without air evacuation.
Grand Total: 44,779.
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
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
â€“ but not reported in the study â€“ that the nature of the combat
in Vietnam was different â€“ 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
- 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
– 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 here.)
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 â€“
all of them â€“ have more important things to worry about.