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While American casualties fluctuate month to month, they're spiking again. On Oct. 6 two U.S. soldiers patrolling outside Baghdad died when a roadside bomb blasted their convoy, and another perished west of the city when his unit was hit. Three days later a G.I. lost his life to an RPG, and two others were killed in Baghdad's turbulent Sadr City when a false cry for help lured their squad into an ambush. Over the next four days, three G.I.s died in separate combat incidents. On Friday three U.S. soldiers and 10 Iraqis died in a fire fight at the Karbala headquarters of a Shi'ite cleric, and another American fell in Baghdad.
Bush is right, of course, to say the killings aren't the only news from Iraq. The U.S. has been making headway in restoring the country to normality. Power production recently surpassed the prewar average, more than 1,500 schools have been rehabilitated, and the din of construction fills the capital. Large swaths of the countryside are calm and cooperative. And the Administration won a diplomatic showdown with the U.N. Security Council last week when the council unanimously endorsed the U.S. plan for reconstructing Iraq--though the victory felt somewhat hollow when council members immediately declared they would not contribute men or money to the effort.
The fact is, the realities coexist: this is a country working to move on amid a shooting war that will not end. For soldiers and citizens alike, there are still many ways to die in Iraq, and the coroners who tidy away the dead have seen them all. Rifle fire. Roadside bombs, or improvised explosive devices, as the U.S. military calls them. RPGs. Mortar fire. Suicide car bombs. Some days it feels as if Iraqis opposing the U.S. presence are throwing everything they can at the young soldiers and the locals helping them rebuild the country. Some weeks are better than others, but the drumbeat of attacks persists, and the drip-drip of casualties isn't letting up. Despite the best efforts of field commanders, the U.S.-led coalition is still struggling to contain the threat. And the latest spasm of attacks has only deepened unease that the chaos of the early postwar days may be evolving into a more deliberate resistance, as scattershot hostility hardens into something more organized and sophisticated.
HOW BAD IS IT?
Statistics are pliable things. Some people contend that the 338 American soldiers who have died in Iraq since the war began--215 in combat, 123 from noncombat causes--amount to a hearteningly low toll out of the 130,000-strong U.S. force. But others, including many of the troops, are dismayed that 199 of those deaths--101 combat, 98 noncombat--have come since Bush's May 1 declaration that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." Even though some military officers contend that G.I.s are dying at a slower rate, soldiers say the unpredictability and ever-changing face of the enemy make life in Iraq as dangerous as ever. "Every time you do a knock and search, it's a combat operation," says Colonel Christopher Pease, commander of the 1st Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade. "You don't know where or when you're going to be shot at."