Iraq war stories

Numbers can be a tricky way to evaluate a situation, but let’s start with a few.

• 115 American soldiers died in the “official” 21-day war in Iraq, the one declared finished by President George Bush on May 1, 2003. Some 753 American soldiers have died in Iraq since that day—130 of them this past month. So, more died in one month of the occupation than did in the war itself.

• Somewhere between 8,958 and 10,810 Iraqi civilians have died since the war began. These numbers (ones the U.S. military will not provide) come courtesy of the people at Iraq Body Count (, a Web site dedicated to reporting noncombatant Iraqi deaths.

• More than 4,000 American soldiers have come home wounded since the war began. At least 11,000 others have been medically evacuated. No good estimates exist about how many Iraqi civilians have been wounded since the outset of the war, but there is little doubt it numbers in the tens of thousands.

These numbers—each counting a human life that has been lost or inalterably damaged—are one way of looking at the story of a war in progress.

But we can look at the story in another way, too—by listening to firsthand stories from journalists and others who, like the Los Angeles Times’ John Daniszewski, were in Baghdad during the war and have witnessed much of the occupation. “Everyone believed that U.S. forces—the most powerful army in the world—would swiftly take care of whatever was needed,” Daniszewski wrote about the optimism present in Iraq after the initial fighting ended.

But nothing happened the way it was supposed to. One year later, he has witnessed an absolute deterioration of trust between the Iraqi people and the U.S. occupation forces. He writes now with anguish about the lack of basic gains for ordinary Iraqis, the ongoing bloodshed, the stepped-up insurgency movement (he himself has lost friends to the violence) and, ultimately, the failure of the occupation. “Violence and fear have become the country’s twin plagues,” he wrote on the one-year anniversary of the war’s end.

These stark words from a witness to war were echoed by scores of others in newspapers throughout the world on the one-year anniversary of the war.

Yet another way to hear the story is to consider what the Iraqi people themselves think about it. President George W. Bush has said all along that the war and occupation had one goal: a free and democratic Iraq. Thus, it is ironic in the extreme that, as revealed in last week’s USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll, the majority of Iraqi people feel the invasion of their country has done more harm than good, and 57 percent want the American military gone immediately, no matter what, despite the fear that Iraqis actually could be in greater danger as a result.

The numbers, the witnesses and the Iraqi people themselves all have a war story to tell. It’s too bad nobody in the Bush administration seems to be listening.