JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the war in Iraq and the loss of 4,000 Americans. Ray Suarez has this overview report on the American toll so far.
RAY SUAREZ: There’s been a rise in violence in Iraq, lethal for Americans and Iraqis. But it’s also true that for months now, starting late last year, American casualties have been dropping, the first sustained drop since the war began five years ago.
Until the fall, roughly 80 to 100 troops were killed in each month of 2007. But in September, eight months after tens of thousands of additional troops began arriving as part of the surge, the death toll began dropping to 40 or fewer a month.
Last month was one of the least deadly for American troops since 2004: 29 Americans were killed in Iraq in February.
Chuck Vinch tracks casualty information for the Military Times News Service.
CHUCK VINCH, Military Times News Service: Around the middle of the summer, we saw something change there and the numbers started to drop. That was about the point where the surge was completed, the surge of the five additional combat brigades into Iraq was completed, and they were pretty much all in place and doing what they were supposed to be doing. And around August, we started to see a bit of a slowdown, September, and then into the fall it really became noticeable.
RAY SUAREZ: Since the U.S. invaded Iraq, more than 4 out of every 5 deaths came in hostilities. The number-one threat is what it’s been for years: the IED, or improvised explosive device, responsible for more than 50 percent of all U.S. deaths so far.
More than 21 percent of the dead were killed in other hostile fire. Among non-hostile deaths, vehicle or helicopter accidents have been the most deadly, responsible for 8 percent of American fatalities.
Baghdad and other provinces at the center of the country are the deadliest locations now. More than 1,200 Americans have been killed in and around Baghdad so far.
The western Anbar province has been even deadlier throughout the course of the war and the insurgency; nearly 1,300 have died there. But the surge and Sunni cooperation with U.S. forces has brought less fighting and fewer casualties to that region in recent months.
Of all branches of the military, the Army, with the most members in Iraq, has suffered the heaviest losses. More than 70 percent of the dead were members of the Army, including reservists and Army National Guard.
The smaller Marine Corps accounts for nearly a quarter of all deaths, nearly 1,000 to date. The Marine casualty rate has fallen in recent months.
CHUCK VINCH: Marine casualties have dropped significantly, and it’s mainly because the Marines’ main responsibility has been Anbar province. So, as the violence in Anbar province has declined, so, too, has the rate of casualties among U.S. Marines.
RAY SUAREZ: The remaining 5 percent of casualties come from the Navy and Air Force. The Navy has lost more than 90 personnel, the Air Force about 45. Eighty-three percent of all deaths were among active-duty personnel; 10 percent of the deaths were from the National Guard; 6 percent were reservists.
Deaths have touched every state
RAY SUAREZ: The deaths have touched every state and major city and many smaller towns. The largest number of fatalities hailed from larger states and metropolitan areas, but Vinch said he's noticed a part of the country that's been hit particularly hard.
CHUCK VINCH: We actually did an exercise in which we plotted the zip codes of all the home towns on a map. And that's how we get -- we were able to see this pattern.
And if you look at the map with the dots on it, it sort of starts in Pennsylvania, comes across westward through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and then turns southward, comes down through the Midwest, comes through Texas and Louisiana, and then turns back around the South and comes back up through the Carolinas, so it's sort of a rough c-pattern.
The troops who were fighting this war are drawn largely from -- they're coming from rural -- not rural areas, but not from the big cities. They're coming from, again, as that pattern shows, the old Rust Belt and the South. And the theory is that these are the folks in the small towns across America for whom the military is a way out.
RAY SUAREZ: By gender and race, more than 3,900 of the fallen were men. Just under 100 were women, the highest number of women killed in a war since World War II.
Nearly 75 percent of all fatalities were white; about 11 percent were Hispanic or Latino; 9 percent were black or African-American; just under 4 percent were either Asian, American Indian or Native Hawaiian.
The losses are highest among white young men. Roughly 80 percent of all casualties were among people who were between 18 and 30 years old; 9 percent were officers.
The number of wounded continues to swell, often due to advances in battlefield medicine and surgery that keep personnel alive who would have died in earlier wars. More than 29,000 U.S. troops have been wounded since the war began.Public awareness about the war and its death toll has declined over the last year. A poll from the Pew Research Center released earlier this month found only 28 percent of the public knew 4,000 Americans had been killed in Iraq.