For Whom The Death Tolls
Deliberate Undercounting of “Coalition” Fatalities
by Paul de Rooij

January 24, 2004

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There is evidence of a concerted effort afoot to obfuscate the number of casualties in the recent crop of US-led wars.  May 1st was the day the president Bush landed on an aircraft carrier and declared the end to the war and the start of the occupation of Iraq. [1]  Since then many casualty numbers have been publicized, most of them disingenuous fudges of the real death toll.  There are many reasons why the casualty toll is understated, which we dissect in this brief essay.

The Bush regime is doing its best to hide the human cost of its recent wars.  Publicity of the soldiers’ deaths is bad during an election year, and would be bad for the continued justification for the American occupation of Iraq.  If they are intent on hiding the casualty figures, then it behooves us to uncover and amplify them.

Are We a “Coalition”?

The US propagandists and the media refer to the term “coalition” when it suits them.  When it is important to show that the US didn’t act alone without UN authorization, then the virtues of the “coalition” are extolled.  When the purpose is to reduce the numbers of casualties reported and to hide the death toll, then it is convenient to count the US casualties exclusively.  The fact that British, Danish, Spanish, Polish, … and Iraqis working for US aren’t added to the casualty tally used by the media is less than honest.

If one found that the US media focused exclusively on US casualties, then this may be understandable.  The British are the second most important contingent in the so-called coalition, and one would expect the British media to report casualties of both the US and UK.  However, when reporting on the seriousness of the situation the BBC also separates the figures and focuses on the US casualties.  BBC Online has numerous articles dealing exclusively with US casualties, and separately there are a few articles on British casualties. [2]  One can only interpret this as an attempt to reduce the reported numbers and hide the scale of the resistance against the “coalition”.  And downplaying the British casualties even in British media is odd to say the least.   

Classification Fudge

If a soldier steps on a landmine, should the victim be classified as a “hostile” casualty?  How about someone killed clearing mines?  In order to arrive at the media-reported fatality statistics, one must actually classify several such deaths as “non-hostile” –- which are thus not reported by most media, as they only report the soldiers killed by “hostile” action.  Of course, the major news groups are not required to use the propaganda compliant numbers -- they keep extensive lists too.  And if they aren’t willing to work out the numbers themselves, they could refer to Lunaville (a good quality data source). [3]  However, the classification currently used definitely results in a reduction of the number of reported casualties.  It is also clear that the Pentagon’s numbers are used widely; otherwise, one couldn’t explain how CNN’s figures are the same as those reported by the BBC.  Anyone attempting to record casualty figures, distinguishing for cause of death, would most likely have derived a different tally.  Since this is not the case with major media, one can only infer that the use of propaganda compliant numbers serves to reduce the reported toll.

There is also clear manipulation of the data.  For example, soldiers killed by hostile actions are subsequently reclassified as accidental deaths. [4]  The simple fact that this manipulation is evident to anyone willing to investigate this should be reason enough to report all the fatalities irrespective of their reported cause of death, but this is not the case.

The graph below shows a relatively high level of “non-hostile” deaths during May 2003.  It looks somewhat suspicious, and it may be an interesting question that intrepid embedded journalists could ask of their Pentagon handlers.  Initially there were many deaths due to “Humvee rollovers” –- 17 to be precise; perhaps soldiers now wear seat belts explaining why this cause of death has disappeared.  A more likely explanation is that the cause of death was really due to hostile action, i.e., rollovers of an explosive kind.  Even a simple eyeball approach to statistics reveals an odd reduction of the “non-hostile” deaths in the graph.

Honest reporting would require tallying a casualty if the victim would be alive today had they not been in Iraq.  Dying of heatstroke, unexplained illnesses, clearing landmines, Humvee rollovers, suicide, fragging [5], should all be included in the tally.  Only then is it possible to obtain a better picture of what is happening on the ground, and estimate what the real casualty figures may be like in the future.  And there is one argument that Americans will surely understand: these numbers also indicate how costly this occupation is going to be in dollar terms.

Some Statistics

It is curious that for a nation obsessed with stock market charts virtually no news organization publishes soldier fatality charts.  The chart below merges the fatalities of both the US and uk (yes, lowercase uk –- the British contingent is less than 10% of the total).  It is clear that there is an upward fatality trend, and this is surprising because all foreign military forces in Iraq have reduced their exposure.  For example, this is what Patrick Cockburn had to say about this:

Overall, the capture of Saddam Hussein seems to have made little difference to the level of resistance.  This is not immediately obvious, because the number of attacks on US forces is down to about 17 a day now, compared with twice that two months ago. But this is in large part because, eager to cut their casualties, US commanders cut the number of patrols they carry out by two thirds from 1,500 a day in November to 500 a day in December. (Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, January 13, 2004)

So, if the exposure to potential threats has diminished, and the casualty rate is up, then this only means one thing: the resistance is growing fiercer.  The overall average rate of fatalities stands at 1.5 per day for the May 1 through Jan. 21, 2004 period.  The rate in the last month stands at 1.8, and the forecast for the fatality rate in May 2004 is 1.9/day.  The rate of fatalities is increasing.  Whereas during the first four months of the occupation the reported “hostile” causes of fatalities stood at 50%, now this has risen to 65% for the period May 1st thru Jan. 21, 2004.

Curiously, no media organization publishes the racial composition of the fatalities.  The table below refers to the May 1, 2003 through Jan 21, 2004 period.

Race/ethnic group of US-uk soldiers (May 1, 03 – Jan 21, 04) Number  


274 68%


53 13%


37 9%


8 2%


30 8%




10 2.5%
Classification done by author from photographs.  This is an imperfect means of classification, but no other source is available.

The racial composition of the casualties remains roughly constant, with a slight increase in the number of whites killed (this has gone from 65 to 68% of the total).

The average age and the average military rank of the fatalities are also increasing.  The explanation for this is that frontline troops tend to be younger and have lower rank.  So, when the conflict changes from a hot war to occupation there is a shift in the nature of casualties: these go from frontline soldiers to reserve duty soldiers; the latter tend to be older and have higher rank.  Furthermore, the Iraqi resistance’s methods to attack the troops also explain this pattern.  Mortars lobbed into military camps give everyone an even chance of getting hurt; the same holds for military convoys hit by “IEDs” (a new military term for: improvised explosive device).

Finally, for a culture obsessed with financial or weather forecasts, it is odd that no one forecasts the military fatalities.  In an article in September 2003, I forecasted that the US-uk fatalities from May 1st to Dec. 31st would be 374; the actual number turned out to be 374.  Again, this isn’t rocket science, it just requires some basic statistics.  The forecast for the May 1, 2003 until May 1, 2004 is of 607 US-uk military fatalities, although it is likely that it will be somewhat lower since the Iraqi resistance is running out of explosives and ammunition.  A forecast around 550 fatalities is more probable, unless the Iraqis manage to bring down a transport plane –- the one hit on Jan. 8th had 69 military personnel on board, but fortunately it wasn’t brought down.

Today’s Miracle Workers

There have been thousands of soldiers transferred to Germany or the US for medical treatment.  Initially, one found the occasional report of a soldier who subsequently died of his wounds in hospital.  During the past few months, there have been only three reports of such deaths even though the casualty rate has increased.  Either such fatalities are now classified as medical malpractice, or the doctors are performing miracles and keeping all wounded soldiers alive.  At least two suicides of returning soldiers at a military hospital were treated as local casualties.  One thing is certain, there is ample dishonesty creeping into the counting of the death toll by refusing to count those dying at hospitals such as the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington.


Another important factor influencing the tally are the mercenaries.  The number of mercenaries has increased markedly.  If one travels to the Baghdad airport one finds many Gurkhas in guard posts.  There are 300 Fijian mercenaries in Iraq hired by a private contractor, and there are other private security personnel working elsewhere in Iraq.  When these folks are killed, many of them also American citizens, then their numbers don’t inflate the casualty toll.  A recent BusinessWeek article on the mercenary industry reported the deaths of some of the employees of a Haliburton subsidiary; these deaths will not inflate the death toll statistics.  The attitude seems to be that they were just paid to do a risky job; if they were killed, tough luck!  With this situation, it is impossible to obtain the true death toll.

On August 20th a translator wearing a full US Army uniform was killed, yet his death doesn’t count as a fatality statistic in the CentCom press releases.  The translator must have been on a contract with the US Army, and although he was an American citizen, his death won’t count.  CNN or the BBC also don’t count this victim, and this can be easily determined by checking the extensive lists kept by both these news organizations.  By excluding such deaths from their tallies, both CNN and BBC remain propaganda-compliant.

Errors and Omissions

Anyone trying to make sense of the casualty numbers reported by CentCom or DefenseLink will find increasingly that there are reporting errors. [6]  For example, dates are sometimes wrong, the archive records are incomplete (e.g., DefenseLink October listing is incomplete and until recently one could not retrieve early records) and the number of casualties in one of these sources doesn’t match the other.  CentCom failed to report altogether the 17 deaths from a helicopter collision on Nov. 15th.  On Nov. 2nd, sixteen soldiers were reported killed in the recent downing of the Chinook helicopter, while the initial CentCom report only listed 15, and it was not updated; when one adds up the confirmed deaths in the DefenseLink website, then one only counts 14.  The other little errors are simply boring but it points to a concerted effort to obfuscate the death toll.

Only Dead Count?

It is rather odd only to be concerned about counting the dead.  There are plenty of soldiers maimed and their lives ruined.  Although the number of these casualties is putatively available, it is only made available if requested by journalists.  One can only conclude that there haven’t been too many requests, thus explaining the difficulty in obtaining these statistics.

Some soldiers may not appear in any statistic yet, but many are near areas where Depleted Uranium munitions [aka, DU ammo] were used -– this even occurred in the middle of Baghdad, where even a water treatment plant was demolished with DU-ammo.  Vast stretches of Iraq have been poisoned from the reckless bombing of chemical and nuclear sites, and now soldiers are expected to work there.  The war departments of both the UK and US are intent on hiding the numbers of new Gulf-War-Syndrome cases, but a court case in London has revealed that there already are some.  Given that many more soldiers died from this syndrome than on the 1991 Gulf War battlefield, then one must expect a new death toll to emerge in the months to come, and it will likely not appear on the CNN tally.  Soldiers are forced to work in a toxic soup [7] and when soldiers die of horrible diseases this will likely be in the US, and thus will not be counted.

Callousness: Exhibit 1

President Bush exhibits some unexplained callousness when confronted with the soldier casualties; the likely reason for this may be that he is empathy-impaired.  Bush has not attended any of the soldier funerals, and has paid very few visits to wounded soldiers in the hospital – so much for “supporting our troops”.  It is also clear that the White House is doing its best to hide the statistics or references to the soldier casualties.  The wounded soldiers are flown in at night, and journalists are barred from reporting on the arrival of coffins, or their burial.  Again, mention of the casualties is bad for the justification of the continuation of the occupation of Iraq, and it is bad for politics during an election year.

Soon at a Mall Near You

Military analysts report a very high incidence of suicides in Iraq when compared to other conflicts, and there have been some evacuations of soldiers due to mental distress.  The period of service is long, the stress is very high, and therefore we can expect large number of mental disorders to develop.  When these soldiers return to the US, to a society that is not supporting them or assisting them with their mental condition, we can then expect a shooting rampage or two.  These are true ticking time bombs, soon to boost a death tally.

How about the Iraqis…

CNN and BBC rarely report on the “coalition”-Iraqi soldiers or policemen killed.  They make a statistic the day a bomb explodes, but then there is no running tally for them.  This privilege of appearing in a tally is reserved only for American or British casualties.

The number of other Iraqis killed is also not reported, and journalists are barred from visiting the morgues to determine this side of the ghastly death toll.  It is important for us to know this statistic simply to know if the locals have a legitimate grievance and if the occupation is sitting on top of an unmanageable situation.  Again, the release of such information is taboo to the new owners of Iraq.

Blood-Soaked Cake

The neocons cheered on the war against Iraq claiming it would be a cakewalk.  When questions arose about the wisdom of this war, they recited the “support our troops” mantra, and now they are squabbling among themselves to determine which country to target next.  These dogs of war are safely ensconced in their air-conditioned think tanks, not really giving a damn about who is being killed or who is paying for all of this, and now they are banging the war drums for their next foray.  The execrable Richard Perle also stated that “we” are in Iraq for the long haul no matter the cost. [8]

Unfortunately, there are many Americans who seem to be content with this state of affairs and who don’t seem to mind the terrible cost exacted from the people in the area.  The only thing that seems to matter is the number of American (and possibly British) soldiers killed, but even that real interest is not adequately answered.  As shown in this article, the propagandists are intent on obfuscating these statistics and are even seeking to hide the arrival of the coffins back in the US.  To avoid further wars, to truly “support our troops,” and to rein in the insufferable neocons, it is essential that the population at large be made aware of the costs of these wars.  Everyone should be made aware of the terrible toll in terms of blood and money.

Paul de Rooij is a writer living in London, and can be reached at proox@hotmail.com (NB: all emails with attachments will be automatically deleted). © 2004 Paul de Rooij

Other articles by Paul de Rooij:


* The Politics of Crying Wolf
* Demolishing the Myths of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
* Amnesty International: The Case of a Rape Foretold
Predictable Propaganda: Four Months of US Occupation of Iraq

* The Parade of the Body Bags

* Ambient Death in Palestine

* The Hydra’s New Head: Propagandists, and Selling the US-Iraq War

* Gretta Duisenberg: An Activist in the Trenches

* Propaganda Stinkers: Fresh Samples From the Field

* Arrogant Propaganda: US Propaganda During The First 10 Days of the US- Iraq War

* A Glossary of Warmongering



[1] To be propaganda compliant one would have to state that on May 1st the president declared that the US halted “major combat operations.”  Given the mounting casualties post-May 1st, the White House emphasizes that it didn’t declare an end to the war then, but an end to the hot war.

[2] BBC Online keeps a list of all the fatalities, but then this only refers to the American fatalities!  See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3019552.stm

[3] http://lunaville.org/warcasualties/Summary.aspx  NB: the data used for this report overlaps to a great extent with this data source.  The difference between the two is that some errors have been corrected, and some casualties have been added that are not available in the official record, but only in the media accounts.

[4] "Predictable Propaganda," Dissident Voice September 3, 2003. 

[5] Shooting the commanding officer is called fragging.  There already has been one such incident.

[6] After a fatality occurs CentCom issues a simple press release.  These can be viewed here: www.centcom.mil/CENTCOMNews. Some days afterwards DefenseLink will issue a press release stating the name of the victims with a brief explanation.  These releases can be viewed here: www.defenselink.mil/releases/

[7]  Discussed in the January 1, 2004 interview with Doug Rokke, an Army Reserve Major, conducted by Dennis Bernstein on Flashpoints (www.flashpoints.net/index.html).

[8] If Perle deems fit to refer to an eminent journalist as the “execrable Robert Fisk”, then it is fair game to label him likewise.






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