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Iraq Transition

Iraq reality check: The cost in lives lost

From Joshua Levs
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Editor's note: Iraq's violence and politics are generating a new war of words in the United States in the run-up to critical congressional elections. In this three-part series, CNN looks at the facts, myths, predictions, and differing ideologies shaping the Iraq issue today.

Fighting the insurgency
The fledgling democracy's future

(CNN) -- Early in the Iraq conflict, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed insurgents as "dead-enders." In 2004, President Bush said the battle against these fighters was "turning a corner." In 2005, he described a "turning point," and Vice President Dick Cheney said the insurgency was in its "last throes."

Now, those descriptions lie buried beneath thousands of bodies -- U.S. troops, Iraqi police, and everyday citizens tortured and killed simply because of their religious sect.

The U.S. death toll is well above 2,700, and the coalition death toll just passed 3,000. Last month 776 U.S. troops were wounded -- the highest number in nearly two years. There is no sign the insurgency is waning, and no evidence to suggest it will any time soon.

"In September, we did see a rise in sensational attacks," Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said October 4. "Last week we also saw the highest number of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices this year that were both found and cleared, and those that were detonated. The number of IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, is also at an all-time high."

A report published last week in the British medical journal The Lancet suggested the Iraqi death toll due to the war could be in the hundreds of thousands. The White House disputed that figure but provided no figure of its own.

Gen. George Casey, head of U.S. troops in Iraq, said, "I've not seen a number higher than 50,000," though he said he could not recall where he saw that figure. "It's either from the Iraqi government or from us. But I don't remember it precisely."

The United Nations has reported a spike in Iraqi deaths this year, saying more than 3,000 Iraqi civilians died each month in July and August alone.

The violence in Iraq has "spiraled totally out of control," Jan Egeland, the top U.N. humanitarian official, said last week. He estimated 1.5 million internally displaced people who had to flee their homes amid the violence, and another 1.2 million to 1.5 million Iraqis who fled to neighboring countries.

Some universities and hospitals in Baghdad have lost up to 80 percent of their professional staff, Egeland said, and at least a third of Iraqi professionals are estimated to have left their country in recent years.

At a news conference last week, Bush noted that attacks rise each year during the month of Ramadan. And he argued the violence can be seen as a sign U.S. efforts are making headway. "Attacks and casualties have also increased recently because our forces are confronting the enemy in Baghdad and in other parts of Iraq," he said.

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An Iraqi man cries as he collects the body of a relative from the morgue in Baghdad Tuesday.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


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