Death toll of US troops in Iraq approaches 2,000

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The Independent Online

The number of American soldiers killed in Iraq was climbing inexorably towards 2,000 yesterday, with the announcement of the 1,996th casualty since the invasion in 2003. US forces suffered 15,220 wounded over the same period.

Many of the 7,159 soldiers too seriously wounded to return to duty have injuries that would have killed them in previous conflicts.

The significance of the milestone is that it comes at a time when support in the US for military action in Iraq is dwindling. There is no sign of insurgent activity diminishing, with 23 US military personnel killed in the past week, mostly by roadside bombs.

The most severe fighting is confined to Sunni provinces, with 23 per cent of the Americans having been killed in Anbar province and 22 per cent in Baghdad. 28 per cent died as a result of bomb attacks, and 24 per cent through gunfire.

Confidence in the US and Britain that soldiers are dying to protect the great majority of Iraqis from a minority of insurgents will be damaged by a leaked Ministry of Defence poll. It shows 45 per cent of Iraqis think attacks on occupying troops are justified.

The poll, commissioned by senior British military officers and published by The Sunday Telegraph, reveals a very high level of hostility towards the occupation. It is striking that resistance is common to Shia and Sunni communities.

The survey, carried out across Iraq in August, shows that 82 per cent of Iraqis say they are "strongly opposed" to coalition troops in Iraq. Less than 1 per cent say the troops are responsible for an improvement in security.

The figures help to explain why the armed resistance has found so many sympathisers. Some 72 per cent of Iraqis say they feel no confidence in the coalition forces, 67 per cent feel less secure because of their presence, and 43 per cent say conditions for peace and stability have got worse.

Washington and London have hitherto drawn comfort from the fact that the insurrection is confined to Sunni Arabs. The Ministry of Defence sought to portray the flare-up in Basra last month, when two British soldiers were captured then freed, as a conflict with a few rogue policemen and their supporters.

But the poll, carried out by Iraqi academics who did not know they were working for the British, shows that 65 per cent of people in Maysan province, supposedly controlled by the British army, say that attacks on British and American troops are justified. In Basra the figure shrinks to 25 per cent, but that is still sizeable.

Given that the Kurds, 20 per cent of the Iraqi population, largely welcome the US and British presence in Iraq, the survey reveals negligible support among Iraqi Arabs.

One of the reasons for the verdict is evident from figures on social conditions. Some 71 per cent of people do not get clean water, 70 per cent say their sewerage system does not work, 47 per cent are short of electricity and 40 per cent of southern Iraqis are unemployed.

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