US Military Casualties in Iraq


In September, 2004, we passed a milestone -- 1,000 US military had died in Iraq. This got me to thinking, "This whole war is an outshoot of 9/11" (as our President relishes in reminding us again and again, no matter how ridiculous it sounds). 2,992 people were presumed dead from the four attacks on September 11th (source). When it comes to orders of magnitude, 1,000 is not a gross distance from 2,992.

So, I put together a chart to determine what kind of course we're on -- how long will it be until the number of US soldiers who die in Iraq equals the number of people who died in the September 11th attacks? The answer October or November of 2007 -- less than 3 years into the next President's term.

The data below came from the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count site. I have not done a bunch of research to verify the validity of these numbers, but they certainly seem to pass the "gut check" test based on my daily dose of NPR. 

First, let's look at the number of US military casualties by month in Iraq. This data excludes non-US casualties and it excludes non-military counts. This latter is a fairly big unknown, since no one seems to know how much the US is actually spending on contractors in Iraq, much less how many of those contractors have died. And, the data below excludes the Iraqi civilians who have been killed during the fighting in their streets.

Note that there has not been any real drop-off in casualties since the governing of Iraq was turned over to the Iraqis in June. Actually, if you put a linear trend line on this data, the trend is upward. But, to be fair, there are not enough data points, and the data is too scattered to reasonably do this. Suffice it to say that the data clearly shows no measurable drop-off in US military deaths in the country.

That gets to the larger question: How long until, at the current pace, we've had as many US troops die as people who died on September 11th? That's what the following chart tries to show.

I have to be honest. I really thought that we would be on track for 2,992 US military deaths in Iraq a lot faster, and it's a little silly to project quite that far out. Still, the chart does make it look like we're on track to kill as many Americans in Iraq during a second Bush term as people who were killed by Al Qaeda on 9/11.

Is this acceptable? Let me go ahead and throw out a couple of obvious counter-arguments here:

  • Argument: The people who died on September 11th were "innocent civilians," whereas the military personnel in Iraq "volunteered to defend our country." My thoughts: This argument rings a little hollow. A human being is a human being. 
  • Argument: The innocent civilians who died were all killed on one day as part of senseless attack, whereas the military personnel are dying over time and are dying for a clear purpose. My thoughts: You simply can't amortize human life -- dead bodies are dead bodies regardless of whether they all died on one day or whether they died over the course of four years. And, there are so many likenesses to Vietnam when it comes to Iraq that I simply have trouble buying the "clear purpose" argument.

I'd love to open up a discussion thread to let people blow holes in this analysis. Unfortunately, my Web skills are not sufficiently savvy to get such a real-time forum working. So, instead, I'll read through emails sent to and try to update this page with thoughts sent to that address.


Send any feedback to