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U.S. Service Member, Iraqi Deaths Decrease in October

November 1, 2007 at 6:25 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Last month saw one of the lowest death rates of American soldiers in Iraq. The number of American wounded also declined, and the number of Iraqis killed in October is also down compared to previous months.

For more on what the numbers and the trends are, we turn to Steven Hurst, Baghdad bureau chief for the Associated Press, and Glenn Kutler, he’s a researcher with iCasualties.org. That’s a nonprofit organization that tracks fatalities and other data about the war in Iraq.

Glenn Kutler, to you first. Your organization, iCasualties, as we said, does track these figures, and let’s start by looking at the U.S. servicemen and women death and wounded during the last month and how that compares to previous months. And I know you’ve got some graphics there we can show our viewers.

GLENN KUTLER, iCasualties.org: My pleasure. The number of fatalities in October was 39; that’s the lowest level since March of 2006. That’s over a year-and-a-half. And in the last four months, the fatalities have been steadily declining month to month.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about in terms of wounded? It was 39 deaths in October. Roughly, do we know the number wounded, and how does that compare?

GLENN KUTLER: The number of wounded is 325 for the month of October. That also is reflective of a decline over the last few months. That also is the lowest level we’ve seen since the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And when, roughly, did this decline begin? I mean, as we look at the graphic, when did it begin to come down?

GLENN KUTLER: Overall, the decline begins back in June of 2007, which corresponds to the beginning of the U.S. troop surge of operations, the second phase of the surge, after the troop buildup was completed.

Fatalities drop in Anbar

JUDY WOODRUFF: And are you seeing a pattern in terms of where these casualties are taking place?

GLENN KUTLER: We've heard a lot about the fact that the Sunni insurgents have been working with Americans in Anbar province, and that is reflected in the numbers. In the past, up to 40 percent of American fatalities occurred in Anbar province. In October, there were only three fatalities in Anbar province.

On the other hand, 50 percent of the casualties in October occurred in Baghdad, and as a percentage, that's higher than it's been traditionally, which has been closer to 30 percent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Steve Hurst, you're on the ground there in Iraq, in Baghdad. What are you seeing there? And what are you hearing, in terms of why this has happened?

STEVEN HURST, Associated Press: Well, I think, Judy, it can clearly be attributed to the fact that there are, one, more U.S. troops here to control the situation better.

And, secondly, it has been the policy of the U.S. military to form groups that they are calling concerned citizens. These people add eyes and ears to the intelligence network of the American forces who have gotten out of the big bases, have gone into smaller bases around the country. And this is allowing, I think, a much more effective fight against insurgents, Shiite militiamen, and al-Qaida.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how do you know that that's connected with these numbers decreasing of deaths and wounded?

STEVEN HURST: Well, we can't be sure, of course. This is the evidence that we're getting from American military commanders. I was out with Major General Lynch about a week ago south of town, and he was showing me around. And his contention is that it's all related to, a, the additional U.S. troops, and, b, the fact that they have begun using the Anbar model in getting both Shiites and Sunnis on board helping the Americans now rather than fighting them.

Source of death toll figures

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Steve, the source for this information, I mean, you rely principally on the military?

STEVEN HURST: No, we're getting our death toll figures, as we have been getting them ever since the beginning of the war and compiling them since April of 2005, we're getting them from police, doctors and hospitals, morgue workers, verifiable witnesses, the military itself, the Iraqi military. We compile these figures daily, send them to our news research organization in New York, and, hence, the figures. And they're down a great deal, starting a trend after August, when they're about...

JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm sorry. Let me just interrupt you there. You're now talking about Iraqi casualties, civilians and military, is that right?

STEVEN HURST: Yes. Yes, indeed, Judy. And those figures are down concurrent with the drop in U.S. military deaths. There were 905, according to our figures last month, and that is well off from 1,000 a month before and nearly 2,000 a month before that. And these figures have been running since November of 2006 right at 2,000, a little above, a little bit below.

So there definitely is a coincidence at work here. And the military evidence suggests that it is, in fact, the additional troops and the ability to bring in Shiites and Sunnis to work with these additional troops.

Getting information on Iraqi deaths

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, again, just to reiterate, you're saying that information coming not just, of course, from the U.S. sources but from Iraqi sources, the police, and others?

STEVEN HURST: Virtually all of the information we get about Iraqi casualties, Iraqi civilians, military and police, comes through, as I said, Iraqi officials in hospitals, morgues from the police, from the Iraqi military itself, from our witnesses who were on the scene. So this is virtually all from Iraqi sources.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Glenn Kutler, on the Iraqi casualties, is what Steve is reporting consistent with what you at iCasualties are finding?

GLENN KUTLER: Yes, it is: iCasualties gathers civilian information from news reports, and our numbers have very similar trends.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in terms of the information you get from the military, does that feed in, in any way, into the Iraqi numbers?

GLENN KUTLER: Well, iCasualties.org, with respect to civilian and Iraqi casualties, does not get any data from the U.S. military.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So it's all Iraqi information?

GLENN KUTLER: Yes.

Effect of casualty decline

JUDY WOODRUFF: Steve Hurst, back to you, how do these reduction in numbers of U.S. military deaths, wounded, and Iraqi civilian and military casualties going, how does this translate on the ground? Does it feel different there?

STEVEN HURST: Baghdad doesn't feel entirely different. It's a much different city than it was six, eight, ten months ago, because violence is absolutely down. I mean, the figures show that.

But there are some really strange anomalies going on in Baghdad, as well, in that whole neighborhoods have been walled off, and I mean big neighborhoods, where there is one point of entry and one point of exit. And some of these new so-called concerned citizens are watching these points, keeping out people who would be enemies, whether they are Shiites trying to enter a Sunni neighborhood or al-Qaida trying to enter a Sunni neighborhood or the converse in Shiite neighborhoods.

So it has changed life a lot. People are somewhat neighborhood bound now, but within some of these neighborhoods, where things have calmed down, life is returning somewhat to normal. But there are many, many places in the city and towns throughout the country where people are still hunkered down.

There's a great, great fear factor here that, even though violence seems to be declining, the people aren't reacting in connection with that decline in the violence and jumping back onto the streets and living normal lives. People are still very much afraid.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Steve, that was going to be my question to you. If you were to ask the ordinary Iraqi today, do they feel safer, just quickly, what do you hear?

STEVEN HURST: No, they don't feel safer. Some people feel life is getting a little bit better, but I think, if we went out into the streets and did a verifiable poll, you'd find that most Iraqis are still too frightened to say that things are much better. Incrementally better, yes, but much better? No.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to leave it there. Steve Hurst, we thank you very much for joining us from Baghdad. He's the A.P. bureau chief there. And Glenn Kutler with iCasualties, he's joining us from Philadelphia. Thank you both.

GLENN KUTLER: Thank you.

RAY SUAREZ: On our Web site, you can search an online database for specific servicemembers killed in the war, by name, date of death, hometown or branch of service. You can also view our honor rolls of soldiers and Marines killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Visit the NewsHour Online at PBS.org.