Nearly 2,000: Counting Iraq's Fallen Soldiers

Tracking Military Deaths

Nearly 2,000 soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of the war in 2003. Michael White runs the Web site icasualties.org, which keeps track of deaths in Iraq.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The US military is approaching another milestone in the war in Iraq. The number of US troops who have died in that conflict will soon reach 2,000. According to the Pentagon, total US deaths as of this morning were 1,983. That number includes those killed in action as well as non-hostile deaths. That number lags a bit behind the total that's posted on the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count Web site; that's an independent site, and the total there is 1,992 US deaths. They arrive at that number by tallying all the fatal incidents in news releases from US Central Command. Michael White is a software engineer in Atlanta. He created the Web site, and he explains why his Web site's number is a bit higher than the Pentagon's.

Mr. MICHAEL WHITE (Iraq Coalition Casualty Count): The DOD has to identify the family of the soldier before they do release the name. So there's always a lag there, and it depends on how quickly they can get the identification to the family as to when that's going to be posted. Once we have a CENTCOM release, we are like 99.9 percent sure that that's a confirmed death, so we go ahead and add that to our site.

BLOCK: Now you're in Atlanta. I'm here in Washington and we're both logged on to your Web site, icasualties.org, and let's go through some of these numbers. I'm going to statistics on your Web page and then to fatality metrics.

Mr. WHITE: Right.

BLOCK: And I'm going to filter--you can apply certain filters--I'm going to filter, in this case, just for US casualties. Of the 1,992 US casualties, of those 78.1 percent or 1,555 cause of death was hostile fire, and I take it that would include anything from an IED, a car bomb.

Mr. WHITE: Right. Yes. It's going to include friendly fire; it's going to include sniper fire. It's going to include IED.

BLOCK: So about 78 percent hostile fire. Then about 22 percent non-combat related, 437 US deaths, and that would be vehicle accidents, illness, self-inflicted injury.

Mr. WHITE: Yeah. What it's not going to include is if the soldier was on a detail where his Humvee ran over, you know, a rock and turned over and he died subsequently. It's not going to include that.

BLOCK: Right. Michael, we've been talking about numbers here and numbers can be a pretty cold business. Do you ever worry that you're getting numbed in some way to the numbers of deaths?

Mr. WHITE: Yes, it's a numbing thing. And one of the reasons I started the site was to bring attention to the fact that soldiers were being killed. And I obviously do not want to turn them into a number, but at the same time doing this as a routine has a tendency to do just that.

Working on the site--when you go to develop a map, say, on--there's a page on the site that's a state map that breaks down the soldiers by, you know, states, and you're sitting there and you're developing this and it takes its toll on you. I mean, it's not just numbers and not every day but once or twice a week I get an e-mail from someone who has a husband or wife or son or daughter in Iraq, and every time you get those e-mails you just think, `Oh, I hope I never see this name come up.' You know, of course, occasionally you do, and we get e-mails from the families of soldiers that have died and it just takes your breath away because suddenly it's not a number anymore. It's right there at you.

BLOCK: What do they say in those e-mails?

Mr. WHITE: Oh, interesting. Some have been critical, saying, you know, `Why do you have this Web site?' And 95 percent just say thank you. A lot of people have said they find it easier to track what's going on in Iraq by using our site.

BLOCK: Michael White, thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. WHITE: And thank you very much.

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