WASHINGTON - U.S. military deaths in Iraq passed the 1,000 mark yesterday, a grim milestone reached amid an upswing in attacks on U.S. forces from the teeming Shiite slum known as Sadr City in Baghdad to the combative Sunni areas west of the capital that includes the city of Fallujah.
More than a dozen U.S. service members have been killed in attacks during the past two days.
The numbers have meant a sad procession of military funerals across the country, in big cities and small towns. The numbers include at least 13 Marylanders - the first, just after the war began, was Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall D. Waters-Bey of Baltimore, who died on March 20, 2003; the most recent came early last month, with the death of civilian Air Force employee Rick A. Ulbright of Waldorf.
The count was compiled by the Associated Press and includes 999 U.S. troops and three civilian contractors who were killed while working for the Pentagon. The tally was compiled based on Pentagon records, AP reporting from Iraq, and reports from soldiers' families. Several of the deaths occurred in neighboring Kuwait, the AP said.
It includes deaths from hostile and nonhostile causes since President Bush launched the military campaign in March of last year to remove Saddam Hussein from power, with the principal argument that the Iraqi leader possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to the United States and Iraq's neighbors. But those weapons have yet to be found.
The Defense Department's most recent published count, as of yesterday, shows 987 U.S. service members dead. Of those, 849 have died since May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.
At the height of the decade-long Vietnam War, the nation's most recent extended military conflict, hundreds of servicemen were dying each week, with the final death toll in excess of 58,000.
David Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, predicted that the 1,000 U.S. deaths could spark a turning point in public perceptions about the war and the continuing military mission that officials say will last for years.
"My intuitive sense is once we get into four digits, fatality aversion is going to set in," said Segal, arguing that the administration faces "an increasingly heavy burden" to justify the war with a public that already was showing deep divisions.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, reading from a prepared text at the Pentagon yesterday shortly before the fatality numbers were released by the AP, anticipated the milestone and sought to link the deaths of service members to worldwide terrorism and the Sept. 11 attacks.
But Bush has acknowledged there was no evidence that Hussein or his regime played a role in the attacks. Moreover, the Sept. 11 commission concluded that Iraq and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network did not have a "collaborative relationship" before the 2001 attacks.
"Taking the offense, however, of course, has its cost, just as staying on defense has its cost," Rumsfeld told reporters. "And soon the American forces are likely to suffer the 1,000th casualty at the hands of terrorists and extremists in Iraq. When combined with U.S. losses in other theaters in the global war on terror, we have lost well more than a thousand already. ... And this week, of course, on Sept. 11th, 2004, we remember the 3,000 citizens of dozens of countries who were killed on Sept. 11th in 2001."
Rumsfeld paid tribute to the "the courage and sacrifice" of those who have served in Iraq and those on duty there. "And needless to say we mourn with the families of those lost," he said.
Bush did not mention the 1,000 deaths in campaign speeches in Missouri yesterday, though he did say the U.S. mission "will make our country safer."
Asked to comment on the death toll, Scott McClellan, the president's spokesman, said: "The best way to honor all those who have lost their life in the war on terrorism is to continue to wage a broad war and spread freedom throughout a dangerous part of the world so that we can transform that region of the world and make the world a safer place and make America more secure."
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, during a campaign stop in Cincinnati, called crossing the 1,000-death threshold a "tragic milestone."
In yesterday's fighting, two Americans died in clashes in Sadr City after militiamen reportedly fired on U.S. patrols. An Iraqi Health Ministry official said 35 Iraqis were killed and 203 wounded in that fighting.
Five other Americans died in separate attacks, mostly in the Baghdad area, but the U.S. military command as of last night had not yet offered details about the circumstances of their deaths.
Segal, of the University of Maryland, said studies have shown Americans are willing to accept casualties - as long as there is a clear national security necessity.
"Afghanistan was never a question. We were attacked. We retaliated," said Segal, referring to the October 2001 decision by Bush to invade Afghanistan and oust the Taliban government that was harboring bin Laden and al-Qaida, which planned and carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.
But Segal said Iraq is different, "given the current schism and division in the country about whether the war was necessary."
In Leonardtown in Southern Maryland, Raymond J. Faulstich Sr. heard the news about the 1,000th death watching the television news last night at dinnertime.
The marker came a month after his son and namesake, Raymond J. Faulstich Jr., 24, an Army private first class, was killed when the convoy he was traveling in near the city of Najaf was hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
"I mean, every day, you watch, and it gets harder and harder now seeing the numbers. Now I think we just have a better appreciation of what those 999 other families are going through," the elder Faulstich said by phone last night.
"We have our good days and bad days. It's fine as long as you have people around and stay busy, but then it gets quiet, and you start looking at pictures, and it gets hard."