The number of Americans killed in Iraq topped 1,000 amid fierce fighting over the past two days. The number of Iraqis killed over the past 18 months is unknown. We go to Baghdad to speak with journalist Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent. [includes rush transcript]
The number of Americans killed in Iraq topped 1,000 yesterday as at least 15 U.S. troops died in fierce fighting over the past two days. The grim milestone was reached 18 months after the US launched its invasion of Iraq early last year. Around half of those killed were between 18 and 24 years old, according to Pentagon statistics citied by Agence France Presse.
All but 140 of the 1,000 deaths have come since May 1st 2003, when President Bush declared an end to major combat operations under a banner reading "Mission Accomplished".
Donald Rumsfeld sought to play down the impact of the symbolic figure, telling reporters at the Pentagon yesterday that the "civilized world" had long passed the 1,000th death at the hands of terrorists. He cited the 3,000 deaths during the Sept. 11 attacks, and the hundreds who died in the school siege in southern Russia last weekend.
The number of Iraqis killed since March 2003 is unknown. The website Iraq Body Count estimates at least 11,800 Iraqi civilians have been killed but some estimates put the Iraqi civilian death toll three times as high.
- Patrick Cockburn, journalist with the London Independent. He joins us on the phone from Baghdad.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Patrick Cockburn, journalist with The London Independent. He’s in Baghdad right now. Welcome to Democracy Now!
PATRICK COCKBURN: Hello.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. You have just written a piece, "U.S. Military Death Toll on Iraqi Soil Tops 1,000." Can you talk about the significance of this milestone?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, it shows above all that the war is intensifying month by month. Maybe there’s an over— we look too much at the number of dead. We should also look at the number of wounded, 7,000. Many of these people have suffered terrible wounds that they would have died in previous wars. People have lost all of their limbs. People who will never move out of a wheelchair in the future. But in Iraq, what’s very noticeable now and maybe hasn’t impressed outside world, but it’s a war on two fronts. American soldiers are dying at the hands of Shiite Muslims, which wasn’t true six months ago, as well as these continuing guerrilla attacks by the Sunni Muslims west and north of Baghdad.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Patrick Cockburn, he’s in Baghdad. Can you describe right now the scene in Baghdad? Can you describe what’s happening, the level of the fighting? Can you talk about what people in this country should understand about Iraq?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, the fighting all over the city — I mean, if you look at Baghdad from a distance, that isn’t at first obvious, although you could see the flashing of shells going off in Sadr City last night, but if you look at it more closely, you will find there’s balance everywhere. You have street fighting in east Baghdad with very heavy casualties, over 200 people killed and wounded yesterday. Then in other parts of the city, looking at one place where a very typical ambush of an American humvee, one soldier killed, one wounded, a very large mine dug in beside the road. I was looking actually on top of a roof of one of the houses. The buckles or remains of a machine gun were lying on the roof. And one of the doors had been torn off the humvee and hurled a good forty — fifty yards over the house. And about five minutes away, there had been a very expert assassination attempt against the governor of Baghdad. A gunman opening fire behind and in front of his convoy, intending them to go down a side street where another large bomb had been prepared and two people completely innocent were killed in this. So all over the city, you have violence occurring. There’s no sign of this ending. And in fact, it seems to be escalating.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the two 29-year-old Italian women, along with two Iraqis, who were kidnapped, part of A Bridge to Baghdad, the group, perhaps the longest standing foreign peace group in Iraq since the Persian Gulf War more than ten years ago?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Yes, well, this was particularly shocking, partly because the people targeted had done nothing except good to Iraq, and secondly, this was in broad daylight in the center of the capital near the national theater. That’s the nearest big building. They turned up in heavily armed — people thought they were government security forces — swept around the guards and kidnapped these two women. While it was they were quite well known here, they aren’t people whom anybody thought would be targeted by kidnappers.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you expect to happen now, and are you getting any sense of the debate in the United States? Is there coverage here — is there coverage in Iraq of the presidential contest here in the United States?
PATRICK COCKBURN: I’m not sure I quite understood that, but the Iraqis are very conscious that the presidential election is going on, but that this is the background to everything that is happening here, and that may explain events — it certainly does explain events earlier in the year, the tremendous attack on Fallujah in April, which was suddenly called off. Now, Iraqis sort of assumed that both the attack and the southern cease-fire leaving Fallujah in the hands of the rebels, that the real initiative came from the White House and not from the military commanders here.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Patrick Cockburn, your response to the Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, incorporating Iraq into the war on terror when responding to questions about 1,000 soldiers dead, saying, quote, "The civilized world had long passed the 1,000th death at the hands of terrorists," citing 9/11 and the hundreds who died in Russia in the school.
PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, obviously, it’s — there’s a horrible irony about that. There’s never been any evidence produced that the terrorism which previously — that the one place that al Qaeda didn’t operate was Iraq, because they were [inaudible] with Saddam. Of course, now, because of the war, it could be much easier, extremely easier for any Islamic militant to come to Iraq to find sympathizers here. That’s a situation created by Rumsfeld, and by the war and the occupation. So it seems to me a horrible irony in the claim that somehow the thousands who — the invasion of Iraq occurred because of terrorism, and the complete failure to admit that they have done nothing except do terrorists a favor by invading this country.
AMY GOODMAN: How?
PATRICK COCKBURN: Because they’ve created a great base here for anybody. I mean, anybody in the Middle East or elsewhere who want to act against the U.S., against Britain can now find succor in Iraq. The large parts of this country are outside the control of the internal Iraqi government or the U.S. forces. There’s no evidence that the Iraqis were behind any of the al Qaeda attacks previously. It’s now a much more potent base for things like militant groups than Afghanistan ever was. But this is the result of the actions, it seems to me, of Rumsfeld and President Bush.
AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Cockburn, I want to thank you for being with us, journalist with The London Independent, speaking to us from Baghdad. This is Democracy Now!