As Americans at home prepared to celebrate the turning of the year, the Pentagon confirmed last night that on the last day of 2006 new fatalities among American soldiers in Iraq had pushed the US death toll over 3,000. It was a reminder of the continuing failure of US and Iraqi troops to suppress the violence in the country.
The new casualties in another weekend of strife that also saw the execution of Saddam Hussein confirmed December as the deadliest single month for US combat personnel in Iraq since November 2004. Officials said that at least 111 servicemen and women had died in the month.
Analysis reveals that 60 per cent of those killed since the March 2003 invasion were under 25 years of age. While some died in the thick of battle in the early weeks of the campaign, as the insurgency grew many were killed by an invisible enemy, often in roadside remote bomb attacks.
It remains true, however, that the 3,000 killed so far represent only a fraction of American losses in earlier wars. The country lost 58,000 in Vietnam and 405,000 in the Second World War. Britain has reported 126 deaths so far.
"The most painful aspect of the presidency is the fact that I know my decisions have caused young men and women to lose their lives," President George Bush said in an end-of-year press conference. In a statement released last night he said: "In the new year, we will remain on the offensive against the enemies of freedom, advance the security of our country, and work toward a free and unified Iraq."
It is now three years after Saddam was discovered by American special forces, skulking in an underground bunker near his birth-town of Tikrit, but with unrelenting bad news from Iraq there was no sense of celebration in the US this weekend after his execution at dawn on Saturday.
"Saddam Hussein's execution comes at the end of a difficult year for the Iraqi people and for our troops," Mr Bush said shortly after hearing the news. "Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy."
There were small demonstrations, including in Times Square in New York, by those protesting against the execution as a sign of America stepping up its military engagement. The International Action Centre called it "a clear sign that the Bush administration is looking not to negotiate a way for the US to leave Iraq, but is instead sending a signal that it will continue the war and escalate it, despite the impending disaster".
However, the conservative commentator Bill Kristol yesterday welcomed the execution, suggesting it "could be a milestone on the road towards a more decent and democratic regime in Iraq".
Mr Bush has spent part of his Christmas break consulting with top aides, including Vice-President Dick Cheney, on new strategies for Iraq. On the table is the so-called "surge" option to temporarily deploy another 25,000 troops in addition to the 134,000 already in Iraq in the hope of finally calming Baghdad.
It is widely assumed that President Bush will agree tosignificantly boost a military programme aimed at training Iraqi soldiers to better control violence and hunt down terrorists.
So far in the war, those Americans killed have included 62 women and more than two dozen soldiers who died at just 18 years old. Some states, meanwhile, have borne the brunt in terms of casualties, with three quarters of those who have died coming from just three states Texas, California and New York.Reuse content