Some Iraqis sympathised with US forces today after hearing the American death toll in the Iraq war had reached 2,000. But others noted that far more Iraqis have died in the conflict and they hoped the US “occupiers” would soon go home.
A day after the 2,000 milestone was reached, insurgent attacks continued. Four militants hiding behind a mosque shot and killed a government official as he drove to work today in a ministry that is trying to recover antiquities looted from Iraqi museums when US forces seized the capital in 2003.
The 2,000 mark was announced in the United States yesterday, and the US Senate observed a moment of silence in honour of the fallen Americans.
“We owe them a deep debt of gratitude for their courage, for their valour, for their strength, for their commitment to our country,” said Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist.
But the landmark came amid growing doubts among the US public about the Iraq conflict, launched in March 2003 to destroy Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. None were ever found.
In Iraq, many people heard of the 2,000 figure on Arab satellite TV channels such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.
Some Iraqis complained that the attention was misguided. Far more Iraqis have died in the conflict than Americans.
No one knows an exact number of Iraqi deaths. But there is some consensus – including from a US military spokesman and outside experts – that an independent count of roughly 30,000 is a relatively credible tally of Iraqi civilian deaths.
“I hope the number of Americans who die goes even higher,” said Omar Ahmed, 36, the Sunni Arab owner of an electricity shop in Dora, one of the most violent parts of Baghdad.
Nearby, Ali al-Obeidi, a 28-year-old Sunni Arab, said he hoped the US losses would prompt the United States to leave Iraq.
“It makes me happy,” he said about the grim 2,000 dead soldiers milestone. “They’re an occupation force.”
Al-Obeidi said the number pales in comparison to the thousands of dead Iraqis.
“The Iraqis are my brothers. We saw nothing good from the Americans. They hurt us and their presence in Iraq is to blame for all the Iraqi deaths.”
Such feelings are not shared by many of Iraq’s majority Shiites, who were freed from the oppression and discrimination that they suffered under Saddam.
“Remnants of Saddam’s regime are co-operating with al-Qaida in Iraq and this, the killing of the Americans, will affect the stability and rebuilding of Iraq,” said Hamid al-Sumaysim, 54, a Shiite shop-owner in Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad.
“The Americans liberated us and they will help us to rebuild our country.”
Abdul Jabar Hassan, 48, a Shiite government electricity worker in the southern city of Basra, said the growing US death toll could be the result of poor planning by the Bush administration about rebuilding Iraq after the war.
“I’m not surprised by this number,” he said. “I expect it to go even higher because America did not plan for the post-war situation in Iraq or really understand its people.”
In a typical militant attack today, four insurgents were waiting behind a Baghdad mosque near the home of Nabil Yasir al Musawi, the top accountant in the antiquities and heritage section of Iraq’s Tourism Ministry.
He and his driver got into their car and drove toward his ministry at 7.30am local time, and moments later the attackers leaped out of hiding and repeatedly fired into the vehicle, quickly killing al Musawi and his driver, said police Captain Talib Thamir.
“He didn’t even have any money in the car at the time. We think it’s just another act of terrorism aimed at government employees. We see these attacks every day,” Thamir said.
Iraq Body Count, a British research group that compiles its figures from reports by the major news agencies and British and US newspapers, has said that as many as 30,051 Iraqis had been killed since the start of the war. Other estimates range as high as 100,000
US and coalition authorities say they have not kept a count of such deaths, and Iraqi government accounting has proven to be haphazard.
In Washington, US President George Bush warned the US public to brace for more casualties in the fight against “as brutal an enemy as we have ever faced, unconstrained by any notion of common humanity and by the rules of warfare”.
“No one should underestimate the difficulties ahead,” Bush said in a speech before the Joint Armed Forces Officers’ Wives’ luncheon in Washington.
In the latest casualty reports, the Pentagon said Staff Sergeant George Alexander, 34, of Killeen, Texas, died Saturday in San Antonio of wounds suffered on October 17 in a blast in Samarra, a city 60 miles north of the Iraqi capital.
Earlier yesterday, the US military announced the deaths of two unidentified Marines in fighting last week in a village 25 miles west of Baghdad. Those announcements brought the US death toll to 2,000.
It was unclear who was the 2,000th service member to die in Iraq since the US military often delays death announcements until families are notified.
On Monday, for example, the US command announced that an unidentified Marine was killed in action the day before – after the deaths of the three service members reported on Tuesday.